Saturday, September 19, 2015

Not Dealing With Climate Change Is Now A Tenet Of The Republican Party Agenda


One of the uglier moments of Wednesday night's GOP debate-- chock full'o'ugly moments-- was when rabid climate-change denier Marco Rubio decided to make his presence known by making a tasteless joke about California's devastating drought. It took about three hours before the CNN moderators brought up climate change as a topic of discussion-- which must've lasted for less than five minutes-- and, predictably, Rubio was the first to jump in... to denigrate it entirely. The only other two who had anything to say on the topic were two reactionary governors, Walker and Christie. All three basically said the same thing: that government efforts are too expensive and can't accomplish anything anyway.

Rubio asserted, baselessly, that the EPA's efforts to regulate carbon emissions from coal plants "will do absolutely nothing to change our climate." Showing he can be every bit as backward and ridiculous as Rubio, Christie chimed in that all the efforts "will not do a thing to lower the rise of the sea … [or] solve the drought here in California." This is their way of pretending to not be complete climate-change deniers-- a position that is completely anathema to millennnials. Very convenient compromise... for the GOP's coal-industry campaign contributors. GOP cluelessness on climate change, of course, doesn't have to wait for a formal debate on CNN. The party's position is well-represented by failed CEO Carly Fiorina, who is so much more concerned about birds than you would have ever guessed:

And, of course, for all the whining and lying Fiorina and the other Republicans do about how environmental regulations will destroy jobs and the economy, in California, which has the most comprehensive regulations in place, the economy is growing far more rapidly than in any other state, in part because of the opportunities created by the regulations and the new businesses coming online to deal with them.

Meanwhile, yesterday a small gaggle of Republicans-- most representing endangered seats in blue-leaning districts-- opposed the crazy, corrupt Republican leaders to call for government action against climate change. Two of them, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo, are in Florida districts already suffering from the rising oceans caused by climate change. The other Republicans who are stepping away from their crackpot conference on this are Chris Gibson (R-NY), Robert Dold (R-IL), Pat Meehan (R-PA), Ryan Costello (R-PA), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Richard Hanna (R-NY) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY).

Perhaps there's a connection to Pope Francis' visit to Congress next week, since his powerful encyclical on climate change was sent to every Republican in Congress.
It is unclear how the Republican leadership will respond. The party has vowed to defeat Barack Obama’s plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants, the pillar of his plan to fight climate change.

The House speaker, John Boehner, has sidestepped the issue of climate change, saying: "I am not a scientist." A number of Republican presidential candidates including Senator Ted Cruz of Texas deny the existence of climate change. Others, such as former senator Rick Santorum and former governor Jeb Bush have called on the pope to steer clear of the issue-- although Bush later softened his language.

Democrats and campaigners had been quietly cultivating moderate House Republicans for months to try to neutralise the highly partisan profile of energy and climate change issues.

The pope, and his framing of climate change as a moral issue-- rather than an economic or scientific concern-- provided the perfect opportunity, according to Alan Lowenthal, a Democratic member of the House from California and a leader of the Safe Climate Caucus.

"Behind the scenes there are Republicans who understand they cannot be in denial and we are being supportive of them," he said in an interview last June around the time of the pope’s pastoral letter on climate change. "They care what the future is. They just find it difficult to be out there all alone, and maybe this will give them the courage to move forward."

By any standards outside of those of Republicans in Congress-- where a majority denies the human contribution to climate change, or opposes action on climate change-- the resolution would be seen as exceedingly timid.

It calls on the house to "study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates."

The formulation is bound to outrage some because there is no doubt that climate change is caused by rising concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The resolution also limits the potential scope of any action, saying efforts to deal with climate change should not impose any costs on the economy.

But after five years in which Republicans have blocked all efforts to deal with climate change, it’s a start.

Locked away behind the London Review of Books paywall, is a David Runciman review of 3 new books on Climate Change-- Why Are We Waiting? The Logic, Urgency and Promise of Tackling Climate Change by Nicholas Stern, Natural Capital: Valuing the Planet by Dieter Helm, and Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet by Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman, all published in the U.S., respectively by MIT, Yale and Princeton: A Tide of Horseshit.
It’s hard to come up with a good analogy for climate change but that doesn’t stop people from trying. We seem to want some way of framing the problem that makes a decent outcome look less unlikely than it often appears. So climate change is described as a ‘moonshot problem’, though of course it isn’t, because the moon presents a fixed target and climate change offers anything but-- how will we know when we’ve landed? Or it’s a ‘war mobilisation problem’, though of course it isn’t, because there is no clear enemy in view (the enemy is us). Or it’s a ‘disease eradication problem’, like ridding the world of smallpox, though of course it isn’t, because getting rid of a disease is good news all round, whereas tackling climate change creates losers as well as winners. These analogies are intended to capture the scale of the challenge-- it’s going to be a major effort-- while keeping alive the thought that we can succeed. The problem is that climate change is nothing like anything we’ve encountered before. Just because we did all those things doesn’t mean we can do this one.

...The unmissable wake-up calls will almost certainly arrive too late to be effective: once we discover the planet is serious about making our lives hell we will have no time left to do anything about it. In climate politics too, displacement activities abound. Further delay, rather than adding to the urgency, creates barriers in the way of decisive action, since any decisive action makes a mockery of our reasons for delay. We don’t even have the luxury of waiting for resource scarcity to send an unmistakable signal that time is short. In the topsy-turvy world of climate politics, Malthusians turn out to be the optimists, because they believe that limited resources must soon produce the crunch point that will bring us to our senses, unpleasant as that will be. Peak oil will force the painful transition to a low carbon economy, or so it’s hoped. But that’s wishful thinking: technological ingenuity means that there are still vast amounts of untapped fossil fuels to be extracted, allowing us to delay the moment of truth long past the point when it could make any difference. The shale gas revolution is just the latest stage in this process. As Dieter Helm says, "there is enough oil, gas and coal to fry the planet many times over." Waiting for the oil to run dry is like waiting for new information to run dry so the book can finally get written: it’s not going to happen.

...Neither uncertainty nor irreversibility diminishes the urgency: there is a big difference between driving around the horseshit and drowning in it. Stern reckons there is still a twenty-year window in which the most significant risks can be ameliorated by a concerted shift towards a low-carbon economy. But uncertainty and irreversibility-- that is, the thought that it might both be too soon and too late-- make the space for decisive political action ever more squeezed. Stern has changed his mind about some things, including the value of legally binding international agreements, collective targets and other big-picture, cost-benefit-driven proposals for effecting change. The evidence of the past few decades is that an emphasis on the growing risks of inaction doesn’t incentivise collective action; if anything, it discourages it. No nation can solve climate change on its own. But attempts to bind the nations of the world together to get a solution big enough for the scale of the problem haven’t worked. Stern takes the defection of Canada from the Kyoto agreement as emblematic of this: if Canada can’t stick to its commitments, who can? Maybe Canada, given its location, has been distracted by the fact that it’s one of the places where the bad news about climate change is liable to arrive last; but Australia, which has much more at stake in the short run, is also wriggling out from under the weight of its obligations. Yet in other countries, significant steps have been taken: Brazil, South Korea, Bangladesh, even Ethiopia have all moved towards lower emission targets (and in Ethiopia’s case this is from a base of very low emissions to start with). Where there is progress, it tends not to be driven by a desire to ‘solve’ the wider problem of climate change; rather, domestic pressures, local incentives and tangential benefits are the motivating factors. Low-carbon policies can be adopted for all sorts of reasons: to reduce pollution, to secure aid, to kick-start development, to rebalance the economy, to drive innovation, to disrupt entrenched monopolies. Governments are much more likely to stick to commitments made to domestic interest groups than to international bodies. These interest groups rarely have the long-term sustainability of the planet at heart. This is climate politics by the back door.

Stern doesn’t believe that a continuing focus on the costs of taking action is getting us anywhere, even if the costs aren’t as great as we might think (which has long been his view). Nor does he think that we have to be able to make our sums add up in order to be confident that what we’re doing is worth it. Talk of pain today, gain tomorrow only breeds more fatalism. Instead, he wants to encourage talk of unplanned-for benefits and unanticipated breakthroughs. The pursuit of a low-carbon economy doesn’t have to be presented as a sacrifice needed to forestall something worse. It could trigger a big improvement on where we are now. The theme of Stern’s book is that there isn’t a choice to be made between sustainability and growth or sustainability and development. A sustainable economic future will have to be dynamic and flexible by definition, drawing on the full range of human ingenuity to achieve the best possible outcomes. If we keep exploring the options and pushing the boundaries, even if we don’t have the final answer in view, we might find we have something that looks like an answer before we know it. And not just to the problem of climate change: Stern thinks we could stumble across all sorts of ancillary benefits as well, including poverty reduction, a more equitable distribution of global wealth and greater international co-operation. These things tend to look like forbidding obstacles when you face them head-on. So don’t. Come at them via another route.

Needless to say, there are serious risks to this approach. One is that it fuels the popular mistrust of climate politics. A striking feature of climate scepticism is its propensity to generate conspiracy theories: people who don’t believe in global warming also tend to suspect that it’s part of a plot to foist government intervention on recalcitrant citizens. In the United States there is particular suspicion of climate change as a Trojan horse for world government: invent a problem that needs co-ordinated global action and-- hey presto!-- the UN suddenly has a stick to beat the rest of the world with. Goodbye national sovereignty, hello global tyranny. Stern seems to be admitting that the conspiracy theorists are half-right. National governments are unlikely to embrace co-ordinated action on their own, so co-ordination has to be smuggled in without anyone really noticing. The difference is that Stern doesn’t think it’s a conspiracy. He views it as a happy accident. His hope is that governments pursuing their own agendas will discover unexpected synergies that bind them together. Moreover, it doesn’t have to be national governments that make the connections: cities, where a lot of the most innovative policy-making is taking place, offer the chance to forge new kinds of alliance (Rio-LA-Barcelona is a better bet for collective action than Brazil-USA-Spain). Similarly, unelected experts and officials can join the dots at places like the World Economic Forum in Davos, where they can explore what there is to be learned from one another. For Stern this is all in the spirit of openness and experimentation: collaboration achieved through a series of constructive encounters facilitated at high-level meeting places around the world. But for anyone whose antennae are attuned to elite attempts at circumventing electoral politics, it’s going to stink. There doesn’t have to be an actual conspiracy to get the conspiracy theorists going. The mere mention of Davos is usually enough.

Popular suspicion of a hidden agenda will only become a serious problem if what Stern is proposing works: there would have to be actual progress towards a radically different model of energy consumption before most people started to wonder how we got there and whether they’d voted for it. The bigger risk is that it won’t work. Relying on happy accidents opens the door to unhappy accidents as well. Germany was making excellent progress on its own initiative towards a low-carbon future when in 2011 it suddenly decided to pay attention to what was happening in Japan; more specifically, to what had just happened at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The disaster at Fukushima sent German national politics into a convulsion of anxiety and unscrupulous horse-trading, the result of which was a rapid retreat from nuclear power and a return for the short term to a reliance on fossil fuels. The hope that cumulative small steps will get you to the big prize can easily be punctured by chance mishaps. Without a binding long-term agreement to fall back on, the final outcome remains a hostage to fortune.

Stern is very aware that the progress some cities and some countries are making towards a more sustainable, low-carbon future is not enough. There needs to be more concerted action, and soon: any delay makes the barrier of irreversibility harder to overcome. At the same time he is conscious that harping on the urgency and scale of the problem tends to be counterproductive, because it makes individual actors feel relatively powerless. Why bother? Small progress keeps alive the idea that real progress is possible but it also encourages the false hope that small progress is all we need. In that sense, Stern is stuck: make the scale of the action required match the scale of the problem we face and people will give up; downplay it and they won’t try hard enough. Stern’s way of squaring the circle is to look for points where manageable goals-- particularly at the domestic level-- have the potential to morph into transformative outcomes. He wants more investment in R&D, more pooling of knowledge, a greater emphasis on trust-building rather than legal obligations, no more talk of game theory and a much bigger emphasis on what has been achieved rather than on what hasn’t. He wants to make it sound doable. The danger is that he makes it sound too easy and too idealistic at the same time.

Republicans aren't likely to read Stern's book or any of the others for that matter. They're not scientists. Or interested in science. They are interested in Pope Francis' visit to America and his pronouncements about Climate Change-- interested as in furious. One sick wing-nut, Arizona flat-earther Paul Gosar, himself a Catholic (who represents the 4th CD, the exburbs north of Phoenix and the entire western part of the state bordering California, Nevada and Utah, a very backward and socially primitive R+20 district that gave Romney 67% in 2012), announced he is boycotting the Pope's congressional address. "I have both a moral obligation and leadership responsibility to call out leaders, regardless of their titles, who ignore Christian persecution and fail to embrace opportunities to advocate for religious freedom and the sanctity of human life," he wrote. "If the Pope plans to spend the majority of his time advocating for flawed climate change policies, then I will not attend. It is my hope that Pope Francis realizes his time is better spent focusing on matters like religious tolerance and the sanctity of all life." And Gosar's not the only deranged Climate Change denier angry at the Pope.

In Philadelphia, there's a lot of anger directed towards the Pope from the hopelessly brainwashed as well.
Nearly four months ago, Pope Francis decried global warming as a man-made catastrophe requiring immediate ecological activism and blamed modern materialism for turning the planet into "an immense pile of filth."

Yesterday, a few folks in Philly didn't mince words in their opinions of the pollution-busting pleas the pope made last May in his encyclical, Laudato si'.

Paganism, declared one. "What is environmentalism but nature worship?" said Gene Koprowski, marketing director of the Heartland Institute [a dangerous, anti-American Koch brothers front group].

Anti-American and dangerous, said another.

"The pope does seem to be enamored with solutions that are not pro-American in the slightest," said Dom Giordano, a WPHT (1210-AM) talk-show host and Daily News op-ed columnist.

Unholy lies, said a third. "The truth is our lodestar, and yet the truth has been shut down," said Elizabeth Yore, a child-advocacy lawyer and Heartland representative.

Although Pope Francis' controversial comments on everything from climate change to divorce to abortion have energized progressives and lapsed Catholics, they also have rallied conservatives among the fold who are concerned that their leader is too left-leaning.

The papal pooh-poohing has become louder locally as the region gears up for Pope Francis' first U.S. visit next week.

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At 8:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The other Republicans who are stepping away from their crackpot conference on this are Chris Gibson (R-NY), Robert Dold (R-IL), Pat Meehan (R-PA), Ryan Costello (R-PA), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Richard Hanna (R-NY) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY)." Col. Gibson has always been more of an actual Party-of-Lincoln Republican, and he and Fitzpatrick are both retiring anyway. As to the rest, Snake Oil doesn't sell as well in the Philly 'burbs or New York State as it does in, say, Tennessee or Texas.

At 9:15 AM, Blogger ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I wasted a half hour (or so!) of my morning arguing with a denier on twitter.

They don't know, and they don't want to know. The guy kept linking to Steven Goddard, a Geology major with a Master's in E.E.

That's where Gosar and the rest are coming from. They get money from the fossil fuel industry, they refuse to believe the facts.


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