Thursday, March 22, 2007

A warm front over Washington - Whatever one's opinion might be regarding man made climate change, there was definitely a change in climate on Capitol Hill yesterday, as the eminence grise of global warming repaired to meetings with the House's Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Al Gore made the rounds as part of his continued efforts to heighten awareness around the issue of anthropogenic "forcings" impacting global atmospheric temperatures, as reported by the New York Times.

While sparring with Representative Joe L. Barton, a Texas Republican critical of his message, Mr. Gore resorted to a simple metaphor. "The planet has a fever. If your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor." He added, "If the doctor says you need to intervene here, you don’t say 'I read a science fiction novel that says it’s not a problem.' You take action."
As the NYT reports, Mr. Gore spoke to both chambers to trumpet a "10-point plan," which among other things called for "a tax on carbon emissions, a ban on incandescent light bulbs and another on new coal-fired plants that cannot be designed to capture carbon." Additionally, he proposed a "national mortgage program to underwrite the use of home energy-saving technologies."

But the fact that Gore averred that global warming was no longer a scientific concern - as if to say that the science regarding climate change is already settled - but rather an issue of morality informs much. In his written testimony to the House, he noted that global warming "is not ultimately about any scientific discussion or political dialogue." Indeed, Mr. Gore has consistently sought to remove science from he discussion entirely as of late, ostensibly replacing the pursuit of discernible fact with appeals to a morality of an indeterminate origin.

Sadly, Mr. Gore can hardly accomplish that meager sort of rhetorical sleight-of-hand; his entreaties seem more derived from a Madison Avenue advertising pitch than from any line of moral reasoning. (The former Vice-President has evidently spent more time than we realized on the West coast, as he has adopted some of their Hollywood hokum as his own, referring at length to the movie "300.") He also summoned up a similarly treacly sentiment in his written statement.
When I think about the climate crisis today, I can imagine a time in the future when our children and grandchildren ask us one of two questions. Either they will ask, "What were you thinking, didn't you care about our future?" Or they will ask, "How did you find the moral courage to cross party lines and solve this crisis?" We must hear their questions now. We must answer them with our actions, not merely with our promises. We must choose a future for which our children and grandchildren will thank us.
Of course, true moral courage dictates that people dedicate resources to activities that can accomplish the most good first. As discussed elsewhere, global warming advocates ignore - at the peril of the world's impoverished - the moral hazard associated with neglecting, for example, the treatment of easily remediable diseases such as malaria in the developing world, in order to address the "threat" posed by climate change (which is still primarily a risk to property, and by extension more of a risk to the developed world.) In his written testimony to the House, Bjorn Lomborg, Ph.D. of the Copenhagen Consensus Center said as much.
Of course, part of us still want to say "let's do it all." And I agree. In an ideal world we would deal with all the world's woes. We should win the war against hunger, end conflicts, stop communicable diseases, provide clean drinking water, step up education and halt climate change. But we don't. And so we have to start face [sic] reality.

When we realize that there are many areas in the world - like HIV, malnutrition, free trade, malaria, clean drinking water etc. - where we can do immense amounts of good, it seems obvious to me that we must focus our attention and our big expenditure there first.
As noted elsewhere, Dr. Lomborg has made exactly this point repeatedly in recent years. The two Copenhagen Consensus meetings in 2004 and 2006 demonstrated that when given a limited amount of financial resources, the "consensus" is that those monies are best spent dealing with less intractable threats to human existence, with global climate change consistently ranking as a low priority.

To be sure, the sturm und drang over global warming represents a monumental selfishness and an outrageous mindset of entitlement. To deny Bangladeshi children polio vaccines so that a millionaire's second home in Key Biscayne is not deluged is an act of ethical derangement, (and based upon the IPCC's latest Summary for Policymakers, such an event is hardly a realistic concern.) So perhaps Mr. Gore is right after all; global warming - and our response thereto - is a sort of moral Rorschach test that reveals much about the morality of individuals on both sides of the issue.

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