29 March 2010

Freeing Energy Policy From Climate Science

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger have a new essay over at Yale e360. It is right on target. They argue that justifications for action on energy policy need to be decoupled from climate science -- for the good of both. Here is how they start off:
The 20-year effort by environmentalists to establish climate science as the primary basis for far-reaching action to decarbonize the global energy economy today lies in ruins. Backlash in reaction to “Climategate” and recent controversies involving the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s 2007 assessment report are but the latest evidence that such efforts have evidently failed.

While the urge to blame fossil-fuel-funded skeptics for this recent bad turn of events has proven irresistible for most environmental leaders and pundits, forward-looking greens wishing to ascertain what might be salvaged from the wreckage would be well advised to look closer to home. Climate science, even at its most uncontroversial, could never motivate the remaking of the entire global energy economy. Efforts to use climate science to threaten an apocalyptic future should we fail to embrace green proposals, and to characterize present-day natural disasters as terrifying previews of an impending day of reckoning, have only served to undermine the credibility of both climate science and progressive energy policy.
It only gets better from there.

The essay develops themes that have long been present in their work. In Break Through, they write:
The questions before us are centrally about how we will survive, who will survive, and how we will live. These are questions that climatologists and other scientists can inform but not decide. For their important work, scientists deserve our gratitude, not special political authority. What's needed today is a politics that seeks authority not from Nature or Science but from a compelling vision of the future that is appropriate for the world we live in and the crises we face.
Please read the whole thing, and feel free to comment at Yale e360 or come back and discuss here.

Note: I am happy to be a senior fellow of The Breakthrough Institute, founded by Michael and Ted.