Credibility claim shows low quality of climate debate

Bob Tippee
Editor

Everything wrong about debate over climate change congealed in a single sentence at a Senate Finance Committee hearing Nov. 10.

The words came from Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in response to warnings about costs of the cap-and-trade legislation he has sponsored with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

“Your studies aren’t credible because you haven’t considered the impacts of inaction,” Kerry said (OGJ Online, Nov. 11, 2009).

In other words, the senator isn’t listening.

He and his allies promote an apocalyptic view of planetary warming in response to which they hope to seize control of energy markets.

With the help of a dazzled popular media, they have succeeded in polarizing discourse into two camps: believers and nonbelievers. As Kerry’s flippant dismissal of serious warnings by serious adults makes clear, nonbelievers aren’t welcome in the debate.

Before he’ll take seriously the possibility that cap-and-trade legislation might idle 8 million b/d of US refining capacity and raise the price of oil products by $1/gal, he wants those highlighting the threat also to present the “impacts of inaction.”

Yet all the senator needs to do is look around. If his dangerous bill doesn’t pass, things won’t change much.

Yes, carbon dioxide will further accumulate in the atmosphere. Depending on climate mechanics no one yet knows how to predict accurately, the accumulation might enhance global warming that was going to happen anyway but seems lately to have stalled.

Or it might not. Global average temperature responds to many influences beyond human emissions of CO2, some of them much stronger. People can’t affect it much.

In fact, Kerry should confess to the temperature impacts of action on his bill: nothing. A cap-and-trade scheme won’t influence temperature. It will just raise energy costs and make the US more popular than it is now among the ruling elite of Europe.

Still, moderating CO2 emissions—like the companion tactic of moderating energy use—makes sense. It can be done, however, without nationalizing energy consumption and destabilizing the economy.

Toward such sensible aims the first step should be to shed comic-book panic about climate catastrophe.

But don’t expect Kerry to listen.

(Online Nov. 13, 2009; author’s e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)

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