25 July 2010


The aftermath of the US Senate's decision to put off climate legislation has been ugly. The Obama Administration is blaming the inside-the-beltway environmental lobbyists:

One exasperated administration official on Thursday lambasted the environmentalists – led by the Environmental Defense Fund – for failing to effectively lobby GOP senators.

“They didn’t deliver a single Republican,” the official told POLITICO. “They spent like $100 million and they weren’t able to get a single Republican convert on the bill.”

One of those inside-the beltway lobbying groups, the Center for American Progress, fires right back at the Obama Administration:
On the political front, the White House deserves most of the blame for not getting Republicans. Why? Because the White House never tried to keep moderate Democrats in line, never made it clear that there was definitely gonna be a vote on this bill and the moderates should figure out what they needed to support the bill (as in the case of healthcare reform).
The failure of the climate bill in the Senate has also led to something that I never thought I'd read, this from Thomas Friedman:
I don’t have anything else to say
By contrast, Clive Crook however has a lot to say, and as usual, it is smart and on point:

Governments have failed. It is important to understand why, and to see what needs to change. In the US, almost everybody is implicated. The Republican party is at fault for refusing to take climate change seriously and for brainlessly opposing tax increases – which meaningful climate change policies demand, one way or another. Under current rules, the Senate needs 60 votes to pass a law; there are 59 Democrats, so they cannot act alone.

The Democrats themselves are divided. They would struggle to muster a bare Senate majority for cap-and-trade. The party has also bungled the case for action. It pretended cap-and-trade could work without making energy dearer – it is not really a tax, they insist. Of course it is and voters can usually tell when they are being conned.

In an election year, with a depressed economy and sentiment turning against the Democrats, passing cap-and-trade was sure to be difficult. After healthcare reform, a fiscal stimulus of $800bn, the Troubled Asset Relief Program and a wholesale rearrangement of financial regulation, US voters have no appetite for another big initiative. This may be why Mr Obama invested so little in the issue. He let cap-and-trade die in Congress. He too is partly to blame.

In all these political calculations, one fact looms large: voters are worried about climate change, but not enough to demand, or perhaps even tolerate, meaningful action. This is why the politicians acted as they did. Stronger leadership would have helped, no doubt. Still, you have to wonder why public opinion is failing of its own accord to demand action. The answer is not, I think, that voters on the whole are stupid – something many politicians believe rather too openly. In part, it is that climate science has trashed its own credibility.

Leading scientists have worked as activists rather than scholars, on the principle that the public needs to be scared and must not be troubled with complications. Uncertainties are suppressed, disagreements kept quiet, inconvenient truths set aside. The science is settled: that is all the public can handle.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change institutionalised the idea and the Climategate e-mails opened a window on the process. What was supposed to be a disinterested clearing-house for science to guide policy became, in part, a taxpayer-funded lobbying shop – and a notably incompetent one. The science was fitted to the case for action rather than the other way round. The public does not trust scientist-activists, and is right not to.

Restoring confidence in climate science should be a priority – a task that the recent flurry of inquiries supposedly vindicating the Climategate e-mailers has set back. The IPCC needs new leadership, a fresh mandate and strong oversight. Governments should stop outsourcing their advocacy role to a supposedly non-political scientific body. Scientists demanding deference to their expertise are entitled to it only if they leave politics to the politicians. The case for action on greenhouse gases is strong, but not certain. Action ought to be taken despite the doubts. That is different from demanding action because there are no doubts. Trust the public with a less varnished view of the science and support for climate policy would strengthen. How else should governments move forward?
Meantime, some activist climate scientists are trying to reignite the bitter debate over the Hockey Stick (I kid you not).

In short, climate policy is in utter meltdown: on the political left environmental advocates are at each others' throats while there is every indication that the climate science community has drawn no useful lessons from the past nine months. The state of both the politics and the visible elements of the scientific community are completely contrary to advancing action on energy and climate policies. Those opposed to such action will most likely sit back and enjoy the spectacle.