A Sad Green Story
By DAVID BROOKS
The sad history of climate policy, according to David Brooks
By Ezra Klein ,This is, according to David Brooks, the sad history of Washington’s efforts to address climate change.
1) “The period around 2003 was the golden spring of green technology. John McCain and Joe Lieberman introduced a bipartisan bill to curb global warming.”
2) “Al Gore released his movie “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2006. The global warming issue became associated with the highly partisan former vice president. Gore mobilized liberals, but, once he became the global warming spokesman, no Republican could stand shoulder to shoulder with him and survive.” (Note: Some Republicans could, and did, stand with Gore.)
3) “Obama’s stimulus package set aside $90 billion for renewable energy loans and grants, but the number of actual jobs created has been small. Articles began to appear in the press of green technology grants that were costing $2 million per job created. The program began to look like a wasteful disappointment.”
4) “The federal agencies invested in many winners, but they also invested in some spectacular losers, from Solyndra to the battery maker A123 Systems, which just filed for bankruptcy protection. Private investors can shake off bad investments. But when a political entity like the federal government makes a bad investment, the nasty publicity tarnishes the whole program.”
5) “Fossil fuel technology has advanced more quickly than renewables technology. People used to worry that the world would soon run out of oil, but few worry about that now. Shale gas, meanwhile, has become the current hot, revolutionary fuel of the future.”
6) “The shifting mood was certainly evident in the presidential debate this week. Global warming was off the radar. Meanwhile, President Obama and Mitt Romney competed to see who could most ardently support coal and new pipelines.”
7) “This is not where we thought we’d be back in 2003. Global warming is still real. Green technology is still important. Personally, I’d support a carbon tax to give it a boost. But he who lives by the subsidy dies by the subsidy. Government planners should not be betting on what technologies will develop fastest. They should certainly not be betting on individual companies. This is a story of overreach, misjudgments and disappointment.”
So, to summarize: Addressing climate change by pricing carbon — an idea Brooks supported then and supports now — was a bipartisan project in 2003. It became a partisan project because Al Gore thought it was important enough to make a documentary about. Republicans began opposing efforts to price carbon, in part because they hate Al Gore. That left funding renewables research as the only avenue for those worried about climate change. Funding renewables research means funding some projects that won’t work out, and some that might make Al Gore rich. This led to bad publicity that tarnished the whole program.
The passivity of Brooks’s conclusion is astonishing. This isn’t a story of overreach, misjudgements, and disappointment. It’s a story of Republicans putting raw partisanship and a dislike for Al Gore in front of the planet’s best interests. It’s a story, though Brooks doesn’t mention this, of conservatives building an alternative reality in which the science is unsettled, and no one really knows whether the planet is warming and, even if it is, whether humans have anything to do with it. It’s a story of Democrats being forced into a second and third-best policies that Republicans then use to press their political advantage.
It’s a story, to put it simply, of Democrats doing everything they can to address a problem Brooks says is real in the way Brooks says is best, and Republicans doing everything they can to stop them. And it’s a story that ends with Democrats and Republicans receiving roughly equal blame from Brooks.
The existence of this op-ed is part of the story of why the Democrats failed. The story of what happened over the last 10 years is right there in Brooks’s column. But he doesn’t want to say who’s right and who’s wrong, which is the only tool pundits have to help those who are right and push those who are wrong. Instead, he wants to say everybody is wrong, and isn’t it just a shame.
For a clearer take on this issue, read Eugene Robinson’s
Why the chill on climate change?
By Eugene Robinson,Not a word has been said in the presidential debates about what may be the most urgent and consequential issue in the world: climate change.
President Obama understands and accepts the scientific consensus that the burning of fossil fuels is trapping heat in the atmosphere, with potentially catastrophic long-term effects. Mitt Romney’s view, as on many issues, is pure quicksilver — impossible to pin down — but when he was governor of Massachusetts, climate-change activists considered him enlightened and effective.
Yet neither has mentioned the subject in the debates. Instead, they have argued over who is more eager to extract ever-larger quantities of oil, natural gas and coal from beneath our purple mountains’ majesties and fruited plains.
“We have increased oil production to the highest levels in 16 years,” Obama said in Tuesday’s debate. “Natural gas production is the highest it’s been in decades. We have seen increases in coal production and coal employment.”
Romney scoffed that Obama “has not been Mr. Oil, or Mr. Gas, or Mr. Coal,” and promised that he, if elected, would be all three. “I’ll do it by more drilling, more permits and licenses,” he said, adding later that this means “bringing in a pipeline of oil from Canada, taking advantage of the oil and coal we have here, drilling offshore in Alaska, drilling offshore in Virginia, where the people want it.”
If this is a contest to see who can pretend to be more ignorant of the environmental locomotive that’s barreling down the tracks toward us, Romney wins narrowly.
Obama does acknowledge that his administration has invested in alternative energy technologies, such as wind and solar, that do not emit carbon dioxide and thus do not contribute to atmospheric warming. But he never really says why, except to say he will not “cede those jobs of the future” to nations such as China and Germany.
Romney, on the other hand, claims to pledge heart and soul to an idea that he, as a successful businessman, must know is ridiculous: “North America[n] energy independence.” The notion seems to be that all the oil and natural gas we need can be produced in the United States, Canada and Mexico, and that achieving this continental “independence” will magically cause energy prices to fall.
This is silly. At current production levels, relying solely on good old “North American” oil would leave us more than 30 percent short of what we now consume, and no amount of drilling and despoiling could close that gap. Moreover, the price of oil is a global price — a barrel costs the same whether it’s extracted in North Dakota or the North Sea.
Natural gas is harder to transport over long distances, which means the price is more local. But we’re already moving faster than prudence would advise — through the technology of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” — to pump huge quantities of natural gas, and the price is already quite low.
As for coal, Romney was once more of an environmentalist than Obama; as the president noted Tuesday,Romney once stood in front of the Salem Harbor coal-fired plant in Massachusetts and said, “I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that plant — that plant kills people.” Now, however, Romney says he is ardently pro-coal and claims that Obama isn’t.
But Obama has long been a champion of so-called “clean coal” technology, which many environmentalists believe is an oxymoron. From the point of view of limiting carbon emissions, burning more coal is the worst thing you could do.
Why does it matter that nobody is talking about climate change? Because if you accept that climate scientists are right about the warming of the atmosphere — as Obama does, and Romney basically seems to as well — then you understand that some big decisions will have to be made. You also understand that while there are some measures the United States could take unilaterally, carbon dioxide can never be controlled without the cooperation of other big emitters such as China, India and Brazil. You understand that this is an issue with complicated implications for global prosperity and security.
A presidential campaign offers an opportunity to educate and engage the American people in the decisions that climate change will force us to make. Unfortunately, Obama and Romney have chosen to see this more as an opportunity to pretend that the light at the end of the tunnel is not an approaching train.