Leaders of 196 nations gathered in Paris this week to discuss policies that could halt or reverse the process of climate change.
President Barack Obama has pledged the United States will lead the way. “This is part of American leadership,” he said, later adding, “Because we’re the largest country, because we have the most powerful military, we should welcome the fact that we’re going to do more - and oftentimes we’re going to do it first.”
But climate skeptics back home, mostly Republicans, doubt there’s a problem to fix and don’t want the U.S. taking leadership on it. What would be the best outcome of the Paris climate talks? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
JOEL MATHIS — What can we expect from the climate talks?
Not a darn thing, probably.
While Obama was in Paris this week, the U.S. House approved two measures - mostly along party lines - to scuttle Environmental Protection Agency rules meant to cut carbon emissions from coal-fired plants.
The aim? Show the world America can’t be relied on in this fight.
“While the president is at this climate conference, the American people have that as a very, very low priority,” said Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican.
Actually, a recent poll shows that two-thirds of Americans want the country to join a climate pact at the Paris talks, but never mind.
There was a time, perhaps, when looking the other way - and make no mistake: the GOP’s anti-science stance is willfully ignorant - was somewhat understandable, when the consequences of filling our atmosphere with heat-trapping carbon seemed a far-off future event. It wasn’t nice to leave a broken world to our grandchildren, perhaps, but hey: We wouldn’t be around to deal with the consequences, would we? Now, though?
Studies show that climate change has worsened the California drought by 15 to 20 percent. The Marshall Islands are disappearing under a rising ocean. There are lakes around Mount Everest where glaciers used to be. The examples go on and on. They are affecting real people in the here and now. Republicans respond by perpetuating the falsehood that this is all a hoax.
I’ve pondered how to write this column in a way that might persuade even one person to change their mind, to accept or begin to accept the scientific consensus that climate change is real and substantially created by humans.
I honestly can’t think of a way to accomplish the task. If you have decided that climate change is a hoax, hyped by the scientific community as a means of empowering freedom-hating bureaucrats, I can’t think of a thing that might get you to reconsider.
Which is why I expect Paris to produce nothing of consequence.
Rome is burning down, and we will fiddle all the way to the end.
BEN BOYCHUK — Let’s stipulate that the climate is changing. The earth’s climate has always changed and always will.
The argument is over how much human activity contributes to climate change and what, if anything, might be done about it.
The answer to “what can be done” isn’t for scientists alone to say because it isn’t simply a matter of science. It’s a matter of public policy - in other words, politics.
For the throngs of environmentalists and politicians assembled in Paris, the answer has long been to craft some sort of international treaty that requires everybody to cut back on their carbon dioxide emissions.
You may remember the one and only time such a treaty came to be: Kyoto in 1997. The deal was that all industrialized nations would be obliged to cut their carbon emissions 5 percent from 1990 levels by 2012. It was an abject failure.
Why did Kyoto fail? The standard answer is that the United States refused to ratify the agreement, so our greedy, bloated, self-satisfied people could drive their SUVs with abandon. But the truth is, the largest developing nations - China, India, Brazil and South Africa - were exempt from the agreement altogether.
China happens to be the largest carbon emitter on the planet. China is also the world’s largest economy. India is the world’s third-largest carbon emitter and one of the fastest developing economies on earth. China and India have no interest in undermining their own economic growth.
The proposed reductions both countries submitted for the Paris summit are actually non-binding targets. And India will only make an effort in exchange for $100 billion in “reparations.”
Which brings us to what the Paris farce is really about: reshaping the global economy. Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, candidly admitted this goal at a press event in Brussels last week.
“This is probably the most difficult task we have ever given ourselves,” she said, “which is to intentionally transform the economic development model for the first time in human history.”
That “economic development model” is free-market capitalism, which has lifted hundreds of millions of people around the world out of poverty.
No, Rome isn’t burning. But a lot of patricians want to cash in on the plebs.
Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Joel Mathis is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine.