First is Jim Manzi’s response to Ezra Klein’s “apocalyptic” claim that the “irresistible force of climate change meets the immovable object of the dysfunctional American political system.”
This is the root reason why fair-minded cost/benefit analyses show that various global carbon-rationing proposals that would reduce economic growth rates in return for lower emissions — whether mechanically structured as a carbon tax, a cap-and-trade system or direct regulation — have real-world costs in excess of expected benefits.
Note that these are estimates for global economic impacts. As Klein’s article indicates, the U.S. is much better positioned with respect to climate change than is the world on average. This is why potential U.S. carbon-rationing proposals such as the 2009 Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade plan or the current EPA power-plant proposal consistently fail fair-minded cost/benefit analyses spectacularly – with expected costs that on the order of 10 or 20 times larger than expected benefits for Americans.
This introduces the second problem with Klein’s analysis: The indictment of the American political system’s response to the issue. Klein is ignoring the facts on the ground. Rejecting such deals is a sign of political rationality, not dysfunction. And the American approach to the interrelated issues of energy and climate has been, in terms of results rather than rhetoric, the most successful in the world.
American political economy has for centuries managed to combine an almost ruthless pragmatism in doing what it takes to improve the lives of electorate with an orientation toward positive-sum solutions. These tend to improve the world as a whole, but also to improve America’s relative place within this rising world. This is happening right now with respect to climate change, and Klein’s proposals cut directly against the drivers of this positive change.
As the previous estimates for economic impact indicated, treating climate change as one long-term risk among many others, rather than as the moral and political trump card of Klein’s imagination, has been intelligent. More prosaically, implementing any actual carbon rationing proposals that have been put forward would have been enormously expensive and provided very small benefits.
Instead, America has created a technology-led energy revolution, which has successfully: reduced emissions more than any other major country in the world since 2006; achieved a permanently lower absolute emissions level than the benchmark year of 2005; increased economic growth and jobs; and improved the balance of trade. North America is now projected to achieve effective energy independence by 2030.
None of this was anticipated by national or international authorities as recently as 2008. I described this process in detail, and set it in the context of deep American attitudes and capabilities, in the current National Affairs. But in summary, it was enabled by policies very different than carbon rationing advocates would want to impose: a foundation of freer markets and stronger property rights than other major economies; the new-economy innovation paradigm of entrepreneurial start-ups with independent financing and competitive-cooperative relationships with industry leaders; and support by direct government technology investments.
We should be reinforcing each of these strengths, not despairing over our imagined helplessness.
But National Journal’s Lucia Graves takes a different approach. Instead of denying that Obama’s actions are dictatorial, she disputes Limbaugh’s implicit premise that there’s anything wrong with that. Lest you think we exaggerate, her piece is titled “Obama’s Thankfully ‘Dictatorial’ Approach to Climate Change.”
According to Graves, Limbaugh “has it precisely backward: The decision to use executive authority is the means, not the ends.” And you’ll never guess what justifies the means: “It also makes a lot of sense when it comes to global warming given Congress’s failure to pass the Waxman-Markey energy bill in 2009, and, for decades before that, to pass any sort of comprehensive climate legislation whatsoever.”
Yes, it has come to this. Americans are being urged to submit to “dictatorial” government because democracy is incapable of controlling the weather. “In college classes, climate change is taught as a textbook example of where democracy fails,” Graves asserts in the very first sentence of her column.
Well, that settles it. America might have been a noble experiment, but science has proven it a failure. “Science is science,” Obama tells the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman. “And there is no doubt that if we burned all the fossil fuel that’s in the ground right now that the planet’s going to get too hot and the consequences could be dire.” Friedman asked: “Do you ever want to just go off on the climate deniers in Congress? ‘Yeah, absolutely,’ the president said with a laugh.”
Hardy har har.
There are, to say the least, some problems here. Most important, appeals to scientific authority ought to fall on deaf ears unless the science is conducted honestly, which entails acknowledgment of uncertainty and respect for alternative hypotheses. In this regard, the demonization of “skeptics” should raise an alarm for anyone who takes science seriously. Skepticism is the essence of the scientific method…
A few scholars and commentators have called for “climate deniers” to be jailed, though Graves doesn’t go that far.