Monday, August 02, 2010

Making Sense of the Climate Impasse

Jeff Sachs has a new column on the climate change impass
All signs suggest that the planet is still hurtling headlong toward climatic disaster. The United States’ National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has issued its “State of the Climate Report” covering January-May. The first five months of this year were the warmest on record going back to 1880. May was the warmest month ever. Intense heat waves are currently hitting many parts of the world. Yet still we fail to act.

There are several reasons for this, and we should understand them in order to break today’s deadlock. …

[He discusses what he sees as the the most important factors.]

If we add up these three factors – the enormous economic challenge of reducing greenhouse gases, the complexity of climate science, and deliberate campaigns to confuse the public and discredit the science – we arrive at the fourth and over-arching problem: US politicians’ unwillingness or inability to formulate a sensible climate-change policy. …

When Barack Obama was elected US president, there was hope for progress. Yet, while it is clear that Obama would like to move forward on the issue, so far he has pursued a failed strategy of negotiating with senators and key industries to try to forge an agreement. Yet the special interest groups have dominated the process, and Obama has failed to make any headway.

The Obama administration should have tried – and should still try – an alternative approach. Instead of negotiating with vested interests in the backrooms of the White House and Congress, Obama should present a coherent plan to the American people. He should propose a sound strategy over the next 20 years for reducing America’s dependence on fossil fuels, converting to electric vehicles, and expanding non-carbon energy sources such as solar and wind power. He could then present an estimated price tag for phasing in these changes over time, and demonstrate that the costs would be modest compared to the enormous benefits.

Strangely, despite being a candidate of change, Obama has not taken the approach of presenting real plans of action for change. His administration is trapped more and more in the paralyzing grip of special-interest groups. Whether this is an intended outcome, so that Obama and his party can continue to mobilize large campaign contributions, or the result of poor decision-making is difficult to determine – and may reflect a bit of both.

What is clear is that we are courting disaster as a result. Nature doesn’t care about our political machinations. And nature is telling us that our current economic model is dangerous and self-defeating. Unless we find some real global leadership in the next few years, we will learn that lesson in the hardest ways possible.

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