The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

We Can Reverse It

This morning, President Barack Obama gave a long awaited speech on climate change. It was, to be blunt, long on rhetoric but surprising short on facts to back up the President’s dire predictions of an impending global catastrophe. He began:
No nation, however large or small, wealthy or poor, can escape the impact of climate change. Rising sea levels threaten every coastline. More powerful storms and floods threaten every continent. More frequent droughts and crop failures breed hunger and conflict in places where hunger and conflict already thrive. On shrinking islands, families are already being forced to flee their homes as climate refugees. The security and stability of each nation and all peoples -- our prosperity, our health, and our safety -- are in jeopardy. And the time we have to reverse this tide is running out.

And yet, we can reverse it. John F. Kennedy once observed that "Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man." It is true that for too many years, mankind has been slow to respond or even recognize the magnitude of the climate threat. It is true of my own country, as well. We recognize that. But this is a new day. It is a new era. And I am proud to say that the United States has done more to promote clean energy and reduce carbon pollution in the last eight months than at any other time in our history.

Obama exhibits rather significant hubris and a startling lack of scientific understanding to state “we can reverse it.” Even most of those (but not all) who have adopted climate change as a modern religious experience admit that the anthropogenic component of global warming is relatively small. Serious climate scientists argue about whether it’s 5 or 10 percent of causation. Let’s assume the higher number. That means that 90 percent of causation is attributable to variations in solar activity that are not completely understood, and more importantly, that cannot be controlled by human political endeavors.

It appears that the president is willing to risk a significant impact on an already weakened economy by imposing the equivalent of an energy tax that will invariably reduce the profitability of everything from public utilities to whatever manufacturers and heavy industry remain on shore. The result, sadly, will be even more outsourcing, and a continuing loss of jobs within the United States.

I always find it interesting when a politician proposes legislation or sets goals that will not have any positive impact for many decades but will have significant unintended and more likely negative impact in the mid-term, conveniently converging after he has left office. That’s what our President is doing and it’s reasonable to question his strategy.

In a way, the energy debate is a lot like the health care debate. All Americans recognize that we need substantial reform in both arenas, but many also believe that big government solutions will do little to improve our situation and have the potential to saddle future generations with enormous costs associated with new entitlements or absurd government mandates.

In discussing these concerns with my more progressive friends, I hear the same talking point repeatedly. “If we could spend 1 trillion on the Iraq war,” they intone with a smug look, “why can’t we spend $1 trillion dollars on

The answer is really quite simple. The trillion dollars we spend in Iraq is gone. The trillion dollars we’ve spent on economic stimulus is going fast and will soon be gone. The billions we’re spending bailing out GM, Citibank, and many others will not be recouped. We’re in serious financial trouble, and an adult response to serious financial trouble is to curtail spending, not increase it.

That means that you try to achieve your goals (health care reform or energy policy) using a lighter (and therefore less costly) government touch. It means new taxes, sure, but focuses on creating an infrastructure that encourages the private sector (you remember the private sector, the place where jobs are created and from which prosperity flows) to provide effective solutions.

But a lighter touch takes courage, and more importantly, leadership. It does not pander to an ideological base, nor does it rely solely on talk show appearances and UN speeches. It requires work in the trenches to develop a political consensus that can get things done.