“After years in which global warming activists had lectured everyone about the overwhelming nature of the scientific evidence, it turned out that the most prestigious agencies in the global warming movement were breaking laws, hiding data, and making inflated, bogus claims resting on, in some cases, no scientific basis at all.”
What makes that statement rather remarkable was not the fact that it was said, for we’ve heard many similar declarations over the last few months, it’s who said it. The author was not anyone from the Heartland Institute, or Junk Science, or Climate Audit, or any other of the long-time skeptics. The author was foreign policy expert Walter Russell Mead, posting at The American Interest Online.
Mead may be fairly described as a Jacksonian Democrat: a fellow of strong convictions, but those opinions are not so strongly held as to dismiss the collective wisdom of middle-America out of hand. As his post makes clear, he was previously on board with alarmist global-warming theories. Indeed he sits on the board of the Acra Foundation, an organization that funds eco-groups like the Tides Foundation, the Earth Island Institute and the National Resources Defense Council.
While most of Mead’s analysis is accurate, the title of his post is a bit misleading. Global Warming has been dealt a grievous injury over the last few months, but none have been fatal, at least not yet, for too many initiatives are already in place for us to administer last rights.
A national cap-and-trade program won’t pass Congress this year, or – if I had to bet – in 2011, and even if one did, it wouldn’t go into effect for years. The same goes for regulation under the Clean Air Act. That will take years to accomplish. However, several east coast states implemented the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a regional cap and trade program, in 2009. Midwestern and western states are planning their own regional cap and trade programs as well: the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord and the Western Climate Initiative, respectfully. (The latter was originally called the Western Greenhouse Gas Initiative, until somebody figured out that the acronym “WGGI” would inevitably be pronounced “wedgie,” which came a too uncomfortably close to describing the effect that the program would have on the economies of those regulated).
Further, many states have implemented Renewable Portfolio Standards, which require power producers to use less and less fossil fuel each year. Starting this April USEPA will begin requiring large sources of greenhouse gases to incorporate those “pollutants” into their permits. And, as of January 1, 2010, industry had to start keeping track of their greenhouse gas emissions. The latter move is sort of the first step in figuring out who gets the biggest pieces of the national cap and trade pie, should national cap and trade ever come to pass.
The net effect of the various state and regional initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will be profound. These measures artificially inflate the value of energy produced using low carbon or zero carbon technologies, well beyond the actual cost of production in a competitive, free marketplace. The President addressed the use of two of the lower cost, less greenhouse gas intensive technologies during his State of Union address, advocating more nuclear power and – albeit more tentatively – increased offshore drilling.
On the face of it, such a declaration seems a reasonable, moderate response to a problem that he, if not the majority of the American people, believe is important. But, there’s not much substance behind this exercise in style. Permitting new nuclear plants; negotiating the inevitable legal battles that are sure to follow the issuance of each permit and then, eventually, building those plants will take at least two decades. This is not a practical solution to the problem that the President assures us so imminently endangers the very existence of our planet.
More offshore drilling makes all the sense in the world if the planet is indeed threatened by the evils of coal. Burning natural gas is less greenhouse gas intensive than burning coal. Even better, combined-cycle power plants are far more energy efficient than coal-fired power plants. If one really wants to reduce our national carbon footprint, the cheapest, quickest way to do so would be to increase America’s supply of natural gas and to build the high-efficiency power plants that can utilize this fuel.
Should this administration cheerfully and willingly support offshore drilling, they deserve applause. Unfortunately, the President has heretofore only paid lip-service to offshore drilling, even as his Interior Department has quietly placed obstacles in the way of tapping offshore energy reserves, such as leasing the rights to an important oil/gas field off the coast of Virginia. The President said that he is in favor of “… making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.” The salient question would seem to be: is the President actually going to make “tough decisions,” or will he choose to perpetuate a regulatory environment where such decisions are effectively impossible to make?
This administration can provide vocal support for nuclear power and offshore drilling, but – absent actual action – that rhetoric won’t mean a thing. Global warming hysteria has spurred multiple responses at the state and regional level. The states, in turn, are simply reacting to this supposed threat using every unit of government available, save Congress.
There is a good deal of bureaucratic inertia still in play here, in other words. Halting the global warming juggernaut, much less trying to throw it into reverse gear, will take an awful lot of work. Global warming is far from dead, but the fact that someone like Walter Russell Mead recognizes that its vital signs are dropping is good news indeed.