Thursday, July 02, 2009

Climate-Change Denial Is "Betraying the Planet"--Placing Future Generations in Peril

Paul Krugman, who won the 2008 Nobel Prize in Economics, normally focuses on that field in his New York Times columns and as Professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University. But in his June 29th op-ed piece he took aim at the 212 members of Congress who voted against the recently passed Waxman-Markey climate-change bill--not because he disagrees with their position, but because they have no scientific, political or moral leg to stand on. He also pointed out that the know-nothings wildly over-stated the economic costs of the bill. Some of his better paragraphs follow:

To fully appreciate the irresponsibility and immorality of climate-change denial, you need to know about the grim turn taken by the latest climate research.

The fact is that the planet is changing faster than even pessimists expected: ice caps are shrinking, arid zones spreading, at a terrifying rate. And according to a number of recent studies, catastrophe—a rise in temperature so large as to be almost unthinkable—can no longer be considered a mere possibility. It is, instead, the most likely outcome if we continue along our present course.

As a recent authoritative U.S. government report points out, by the end of this century New Hampshire may well have the climate of North Carolina today, Illinois may have the climate of East Texas, and across the country extreme, deadly heat waves—the kind that traditionally occur only once in a generation—may become annual or biannual events.

But if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it—and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.

After all, to believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists—a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice.

Do you remember the days when Bush administration officials claimed that terrorism posed an “existential threat” to America, a threat in whose face normal rules no longer applied? That was hyperbole—but the existential threat from climate change is all too real.

Yet the deniers are choosing, willfully, to ignore that threat, placing future generations of Americans in grave danger, simply because it’s in their political interest to pretend that there’s nothing to worry about. If that’s not betrayal, I don’t know what is.

Meanwhile, Thomas Friedman, another N.Y. Times columnist often quoted favorably here, had mixed feelings about the related energy bill that recently passed the House. His June 30th verdict: "too weak in key areas and way to complicated in others," and "appalling that so much had to be given away to polluters," but the bill still needs to be passed:

Why? Because, for all its flaws, this bill is the first comprehensive attempt by America to mitigate climate change by putting a price on carbon emissions. Rejecting this bill would have been read in the world as America voting against the reality and urgency of climate change and would have undermined clean energy initiatives everywhere.

More important, my gut tells me that if the U.S. government puts a price on carbon, even a weak one, it will usher in a new mind-set among consumers, investors, farmers, innovators and entrepreneurs that in time will make a big difference—much like the first warnings that cigarettes could cause cancer.

Ditto if this bill passes. Henceforth, every investment decision made in America—about how homes are built, products manufactured or electricity generated—will look for the least-cost low-carbon option. And weaving carbon emissions into every business decision will drive innovation and deployment of clean technologies to a whole new level and make energy efficiency much more affordable.

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