Monday, July 26, 2010

More on Global Warming and Senate

Paul Krugman and Ross Douthat both have columns in today’s NY Times about the Senate’s failure to pass climate legislation. Both of them are worth reading. Krugman attributes the failure to cowardice and greed. Cowardice because senators from conservative states know that backing a cap and trade bill might cost them their seats. Greed because big energy generously funds climate deniers and politicians who support their cause. I agree with Krugman, but would add ignorance to the list. The American public’s ignorance of the scientific method and critical thinking skills allows them to be easily swayed by hyperbole, ad hominem attacks, and scare tactics. I’ll be posting more on this in the future.

Douthat has a different take. He believes that the current resistance to cap and trade is a natural progression from the environmental movement of the 1970s, when “apocalyptic enthusiasms” about environmental issues motivated social conservatives and libertarians to join forces and resist new regulations. Many of the dire predictions of environmental doom failed to materialize, which seemed to validate the conservative’s position.

Douthat points out that global warming is almost certainly happening. But this is where he starts losing traction. He advocates that regulations may not be needed because a warmer planet may end up being a good thing, or at worse, something we can deal with as it happens. Cap and trade, he writes, is a “leap in the dark”.

But is implementing a market-based system that places a price on carbon really a bigger “leap in the dark” than doing nothing? This argument ignores the very real potential that climatic feedback loops will result in catastrophic changes far more severe than those predicted by the climate models. This makes inaction the real “leap in the dark”.

Finally, I must give Douhtat some props for at least admitting that global warming is real and taking the discussion to the next step. It was refreshing to read a column by a conservative writer that didn’t spew the usual right-wing denier claims.

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