Climate change advocates are making extreme predications about the future in order to promote extreme environmental policies. Climate skeptics challenge the climate orthodoxy and there is no movement towards reconciliation.
This dynamic has been going on for 20 years. If democrats win the White House and Senate, the status quo will change and not for the better. Proposals by the democrat candidates are extreme and predicated on achieving zero emissions by forcing fossils fuels from our energy budget. They are betting that be implementing even some of their policies and rejoining the Paris Accord, they will be able to move a new global agreement forward.
That is a triumph of hope over experience. China. India, and other developing countries will not abandon their economic aspirations unless bribed to do so and the developed world cannot afford to pay the price that would be involved. And, the US cannot afford the forced abandonment of fossil fuels called for by most democrat candidates.
Policies predicated on fossil fuels being the problem assign high probabilities to IPCC estimates of climate sensitivity and natural variability. But prudent risk management policy would not ignore significant uncertainties and base a course of action on estimates that have not been proven to be robust and on political assumptions that require nations to act against their self-interest.
Over the past decade, US CO2 emissions have declined by roughly 14% while global emissions have grown by about 14%. We know the CO2 emissions are growing, are mainly the result of burning fossil fuels, and that atmospheric concentrations warm the planet but the warming effect is not linear. What we don’t know with a high degree of certainty is how much of the current warming is manmade and how much is natural. We also do not adequately understand climate sensitivity since the range for doubling CO2 has remained a factor of 3.
Uncertainty doesn’t mean doing nothing. It means that we focus on reducing the uncertainty as much as possible and take prudent and economically sensible steps to hedge against it. But hedges aren’t free. Investing in modular nuclear reactors allows for the orderly replacement of coal fired power plants with a source of power that is not intermittent. And, natural gas should be the alternative of choice until nuclear can become more cost effective. Unforced advances in automotive technology can further reduce CO2 emissions from mobile sources. Increase R&D on battery technology for both mobile sources and wind and solar storage.
The forced obsolescence of buildings, infrastructure, and mobile sources to achieve zero emissions by 2040 or some other near term arbitrary date would be enormously economically wasteful. In all likelihood the needed turnover couldn’t happen that quickly and the emission reduction here would be at least partially offset by increases in other nations like China and India.
Developing countries will use coal as the fuel of choice unless developed countries provide mechanisms for them to adopt newer energy technologies. Technology transfers will not only address emission concerns but also help these nations climb the economic latter faster.
The Global Commission on Adaptation has just released a report on the adaptation imperative. While many of its suggestions may not prove cost-effective or practical, the report should help guide those investments that do make sense, such as “early warning systems for floods or heatwaves, constructing infrastructure to withstand a changing climate, improving agriculture techniques that could boost cereal yields, investing in making water resources more resilient and protecting mangroves to fortify coasts from storm surges.” We should also change coastal building codes and adopt Dutch measures for protecting against sea level rise.
The notion of finding common ground will not appeal to progressives and environmental activists but the alternative of being stuck with the status quo should be even less appealing. Members of Congress would do well to remember Henry Clay’s admonition that “Politics is not about ideological purity, or moral self-righteousness, it’s about governing. If you cannot compromise you cannot govern.”
Finding common ground on climate change would certainly benefit the science establishment and begin the process of reversing polarization.