The core problem with President Barack Obama’s speech on climate change is that it rejects environmental science in favor of the utopian idea that we can, acting collectively, control the weather. His beliefs on climate resemble his beliefs about the economy, in which he has repeatedly suggested that careful stewardship by the government will prevent the booms and busts of the past. He is committed, a priori, to statist management.
If George W. Bush could be accused of excluding scientific evidence that would imply the need for regulation, Obama must stand accused of trying to bend scientific evidence to his paradigm of the state. He referred, for example, to carbon dioxide as a “pollutant”–at best a legal fiction based on a flawed Supreme Court decision, not a fact about any direct harm the gas does to life on Earth, aside from warming it (an essential function).
“Ninety-seven percent of scientists,” he said, “including, by the way, some who originally disputed the data, have now put that to rest. They’ve acknowledged the planet is warming and human activity is contributing to it. So the question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late.” That is not, actually “the question.” The better questions are: can we do anything; what should we do; and what will the costs be?
Obama persists in the illusion that unilateral restrictions on the U.S. economy would have an appreciable effect on global climate–and hardly bothers with the costs, not just in present jobs but future opportunities. The fact–which even Obama has to admit–is that “carbon pollution,” as he calls it, has been falling in the U.S. That’s largely occurred as a result of a shift to natural gas–and not without resistance from the White House.
The president cited increased risks that coastal communities, agricultural industries, and homes near wildfire areas would have to endure as a result of a warmer climate. What these risks have in common is that they do not put nature itself at risk, but rather the buildings, businesses, and plans in which people have invested. The cost of mitigating those risks is certainly smaller than the cost of restricting economic growth for everyone.
And the costs are real. Obama ignored the impacts that aggressive environmental regulations have on U.S. industries. No, new clean air standards did not “decimate” the auto industry–a classic Obama straw man–but they did have a real cost in fatalities from collisions in lighter vehicles, and they helped shift U.S. production overseas. Meanwhile, China and other developing nations continue to “pollute,” and show no sign of stopping.
In his speech, Obama offered a potted history of climate science, conveniently leaving out the worries about “global cooling” that preceded the current hysteria and ignoring the fact that temperatures have stagnated for the past decade or so. He also ignored the money wasted on renewable fuels, and–in yet another straw-man assault–accused Republicans of being opposed to the jobs created in those industries, rather than the cost.
In his speech–and in his own mind, perhaps–Obama cast himself as a hero, bravely fighting for the people against persistent “critics” and “special interests” with their foot on the brake of history. Some of those same “special interests” are the unions that helped elect him, and which understand that the Keystone XL pipeline is a winning proposition with very great potential economic benefits and very minimal environmental costs.
Obama called for bipartisan cooperation at the same time that he dismissed critics of his climate change policy as members of the “Flat Earth Society.” (It is worth noting that more than ninety-seven percent of scientists were once believers in a “flat earth,” too. Though we live in a democracy, science is not subject to majority rule, any more than Stalin’s favored genetic theories were subject to the dictates of the proletariat.)
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Obama’s speech, even beyond the new coal regulations that had markets rattled, was his exhortation to “divest” from companies that fail to heed his environmental dictates. Think about that: the President of the United States is asking Americans to impoverish each other. It is doubtful whether such tactics will have an effect on global climate. But they certainly poison the political climate.