Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Cabo Test

Here's a passage from Roger's book that gets to the essence:
"A related issue is that many advocates for action have emphasized that climate policy requires sacrifice, as economic growth and environmental progress are necessarily incompatible with one another. This perspective has even been built into the scenarios of the IPCC, and is advocated by its chairman. However, experience shows quite clearly that when environmental and economic objectives are placed into opposition with one another in public or political forums, it is the economic goals that win out. I call this the iron law of climate policy....

"Some may wail and scream about this fundamental reality, and instead demand that people around the world reorder their values such that environmental objectives trump considerations of economic growth. Considerable effort has been expended by advocates on many issues in an effort to reshape societal values. The world's religions, for example, have been trying to reorder values for millennia. While over time value reshaping certainly occurs, there is little evidence to suggest that efforts to achieve a global value restructuring offer a useful path forward on decarbonization of the global economy, or improved resilience to climate extremes. Of course, people will try. Even so, for climate policy the reality is that the iron law of climate policy will hold fast for the foreseeable future. Those interested in real progress on decarbonization of the global economy should respond accordingly."

-- Roger Pielke Jr., The Carbon Fix, pg 59
Let's call this the Cabo Test: If today someone offered you a week-long, all-expenses vacation in Cabo San Lucas, in the finest beachside resort, would you turn it down because of the carbon emissions of the plane you'd fly in? I doubt more than a few percentage of people would decline it. Even the environmentally aware would start compromising in their head: I'll fly this time but will skip a vacation next year. I'll fly but will read a book about climate change. I'll fly but will buy carbon offsets.

I just re-read The Red Badge of Courage, and it's a little like the main character Henry Fleming: he runs from his first battle, and then spends the rest of the book trying to justify why he ran and how he can live with himself. In the end he convinces himself that fleeing was, in fact, a great thing: it will reduce his egotism, it would enable him to see truths more clearly, he believes he will gain "a large sympathy for the machinery of the universe." Ok, perhaps I'm reaching...but we are all selfish at heart, and climate policy needs to reflect that.


Brian said...

Roger has ignored the simple and obvious difficulty of getting 60 votes in the Senate in order to come up with a variety of wise-sounding platitudes for his Breakthrough Institute pet projects.

Other countries and a few US states have really started coming to grips with climate policy. His nonsense doesn't explain that, but Senate filibusters do.

Jay Alt said...

. . . we are all selfish at heart, and climate policy needs to reflect that.

We do not lack selfishness- the true heart of US climate policy.