Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bush's greenhouse gas proposal

A friend pointed me to this Wall Street Journal opinion that defends Bush's recent proposal to stop the growth in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2025. The gist of the article is that anything more is unrealistic, that all of the goals being touted by environmentalists are unachievable.

While the Journal is absolutely right, something about this opinion bothered me, and after thinking about it overnight, I've realized what it is.

There are 3 key questions, I think, about global warming:
a) Is it real? (The main scientific question, best answered by scientists from data, not politicians or pundits)
b) IF it’s real, is it bad? (Combination of scientific/policy question)
c) IF it’s real AND it’s bad, what can or should we do about it? (Strictly policy)

There’s all sorts of room for debate on all of these questions - more on c than b, more on b than a, but room indeed on all 3. But I think the debate on these questions is actually somewhat beside the point.

The fact that Bush is putting out any sort of greenhouse gas goal means that he must be saying “yes” to (a) and (b); otherwise the only explanation is that it’s completely cynical ploy on his part to try to appear to be doing something without actually doing anything. After all, if he says “no” to either (a) or (b) then there’s no point in making any proposal to limit GHGs at all.

So if we give him the benefit of the doubt on this, then his proposal must logically be his answer for (c). In which case he is rightfully assailed for not doing anything meaningful. I.e., it’s doing something that we know will be pointless rather than doing something that we know will be difficult.

He didn’t claim that more aggressive cuts are unnecessary or futile, or that other approaches (e.g., GHG sequestration) make more sense, either of which could potentially be valid scientifically justifiable arguments. He simply said it would be too hard (and the WSJ agrees). He is almost certainly correct on this, but to me it’s akin to Kennedy challenging the nation to have a design for an unmanned ship that could go into lunar orbit by 2020. Maybe we can’t hit something more aggressive, but we won’t know if we don’t try.

We have a president who for 7 years has steadfastly refused to do anything about global warming. For reasons that are inexplicable to me, he has decided with less than a year left in office to put forth a proposal that global warming activists hate, and that global warming deniers hate as well (because it's sheer existence is an acknowledgment that global warming is real).

My friend (a self-described conservative) who pointed me to the WSJ article, thinks that my "cynical ploy" explanation above is accurate. I don't know if it is or isn't, but I can't see what he hopes to gain with this proposal, but I think it would have actually been far more honest for him to simply say “whether or not it's real, there’s nothing we can do about it so why bother.”

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