RARELY has so much hectoring produced so little.
the magazine covers, celebrity sermonizing and UN-certified-expert
hand-wringing, the fight against global warming got a real-world test
in the US Senate a few weeks ago in the debate over a proposal to limit
carbon emissions through a cap-and-trade system.
After a small
dose of the argument, the proposal's backers couldn't wait to drop it.
It was leading opponent Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate minority
leader, who declared he'd be happy to talk about cap-and-trade for a
As an indirect tax on carbon, cap-and-trade would
increase energy prices when people are straining under $4-a-gallon gas.
Even a political naif - which McConnell assuredly isn't - would realize
the benefit of hanging the proposal around its supporters' necks.
Lately, we've seen the tech and housing bubbles burst, and now - at
least as an urgent political issue - the global-warming bubble is
Let's count the ways:
gas prices. They're just one way that the soaring price of oil has put
a crimp in the standard of living of Americans. They have little taste
for seeing it crimped more, and why should they? The cost-benefit
analysis of battling global warming is never going to make sense for
The places that would be hurt by global warming
tend to be warm, wet and low-lying. Think Bangladesh. For the US,
warming isn't much of a threat. So, stringent measures against global
warming are really a massive foreign-aid program, but an intangible and
If the predicted warming materializes, and if
it has the drastic effects warned about (e.g., big rises in sea
levels), people living in faraway countries a century or more from now
may be adversely affected - in short, a theoretical benefit to people
as yet unborn.
We should feel a moral obligation to aid
Bangladesh and similar places with mitigation measures, when (and,
again, if) the time comes. Until then, our consciences should rest
easy, given the $20 billion annually we spend on development
assistance, including billions of dollars fighting AIDS, malaria and
other diseases affecting people whose suffering isn't theoretical.
Second, there's China. It has passed the US as the world's leading
carbon-dioxide emitter, and it accounted for two-thirds of the world's
2007 emission increase. Global action against warming makes little
sense without China taking part, and it won't.
If we can't get
China to quit jailing dissidents and arming a genocidal Sudan, what
hope is there of getting it to stop something - rapid economic
development - that's otherwise unobjectionable? With hundreds of
millions of its people living in abject poverty, China's economic
growth is one of the world's most important initiatives against human
Finally, there's the global-cooling spell. The world
hasn't been warming since 1998, and an article in the journal Nature
says warming won't pick up again until 2015. Since global warming is a
long-term trend, a decade-long or more stall in temperatures doesn't
mean much - except that environmentalists have banked so much
politically on whipping up hysteria based on imminent catastrophe.
The stall in temperatures shows how little we know about global
warming. It means that the .3 degrees Celsius increase in global
temperatures predicted during the next decade by the UN's much-vaunted
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may not happen.
matter what the price of gas is, the most sensible US policy is to
avoid costly schemes to fight global warming. If our economy keeps
growing, we'll be better positioned - richer and more technologically
proficient - to help others mitigate its effects decades from now.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid huffs that global warming is "the
most critical issue of our time." Really? More critical than energy
prices? Than health care? Than wages? Than terrorism? Than nuclear
Keep huffing, Sen. Reid - that deflating bubble needs all the air it can get.