Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Power of Persuasion - The ability to reason is a gift not equally bequeathed to all. Indeed, at many points it appears to be in a distressingly short supply. That is part of what makes a recent victory in a three-on-three debate all the more delicious. (Far be it from me to tread on ground that that has already been trod by a fellow blogger, but with many apologies to Pali Gap, this news bears repeating.) Last month, the Rosenkranz Foundation in conjunction with Intelligence Squared sponsored a debate on the motion "Global Warming is not a crisis," with Micheal Crichton, Dr. Richard Lindzen and Dr. Philip Stott arguing for the motion, and Drs. Brenda Ekwurzel, Gavin Schmidt and Richard C. J. Somerville speaking against.

And so, the good news. Prior to the debate itself, audience members were polled as to their opinion of the resolution; 29.88 percent were in favor, 57.32 percent were opposed and 12.8 percent were undecided. Following the debate, a similar poll was taken which resulted in 46.22 percent in favor of the resolution and 42.22 percent opposed, with approximately 12 percent undecided. Perhaps the audience was persuaded by the lack of certainty exhibited by the climate change missionaries opposing the resolution. Or, just as likely, they were concerned that whatever threat global warming posed, it was far outstripped by the real and present dangers that confront the developing world presently, as noted by Mr. Crichton.

You know, I'm really fascinated at the number of newspaper headlines and articles that I see about global poverty and the difficulties of people in Africa as compared to the headlines about global warming... everyone knows that if you were to look at it for bangs for the buck, if you were to look at it from a humanitarian standpoint, if you were to look at it from the easiest way to do the most for environmental degradation as it's created around the world, you would address global poverty.
As articulated elsewhere, this very precis - that of a moral risk associated with attending to climate change to the neglect of other situations - is at the crux of most reasoned arguments against treating anthropogenic global warming as a looming threat. For if a rise in atmospheric temperatures on the order of one degree Fahrenheit over 100 years is of overwhelming concern, what then are we to say of intra-state genocide, Islamist terror, famine, disease or the myriad of other concerns that beset humankind?

That realization on the part of
a group of New York sophisticates makes the recent SCOTUS decision in Massachusetts v. EPA all the more disheartening. As discussed previously, the case revolved around two points, one being whether the plaintiffs had legal standing to bring their suit (the other being whether EPA had a mandate to regulate CO2 as a pollutant.) In the past, the EPA satisfied itself with attempting to reduce pollution resulting from nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds released by gasoline-powered motor vehicles, as well as carbon monoxide, particulates, sulfur dioxide and lead.

Under the Clean Air Act, and subsequent amendments (to include the 1990 Clean Air Act) the feds could promulgate regulations dictating the refining of cleaner fuels, as well as the production of cleaner cars, trucks, buses and so-called "non-road vehicles" such as locomotives, aircraft and construction equipment. The law allowed individual states to regulate pollutant emissions by power plants; states could also add surcharges to parking fees to encourage carpooling. All of the foregoing were to be done in order to
"protect public health and welfare from any actual or potential adverse effect which in the Administrator's judgment may reasonably be anticipated to occur from air pollution."

In overturning a 2005 appeals court ruling in Washington, D.C, the court's majority sided with those who were concerned that Congress had not established a program to confront the "threat" of global warming. In the dissent, the minority seemed to express at least two concerns about the ruling. Justice Antonin Scalia noted that the decision may represent an undue judicial infringement on the authority of the executive branch.
The court's alarm over global warming may or may not be justified, but it ought not distort the outcome of this litigation. This is a straightforward administrative-law case, in which Congress has passed a malleable statute giving broad discretion, not to us but to an executive agency. No matter how important the underlying policy issues at stake, this court has no business substituting its own desired outcome for the reasoned judgment of the responsible agency.
But perhaps of greater concern, particularly to Chief Justice John Roberts, is the ruling's effect of elasticizing the notion of standing.
Apparently dissatisfied with the pace of progress on this issue in the elected branches, petitioners have come to the courts claiming broad-ranging injury, and attempting to tie that injury to the government's alleged failure to comply with a rather narrow statutory provision. I would reject these challenges as nonjusticable.
So here again, we are left to conclude that
in the opinion of progressives - judicial or otherwise - "facts, legal requirements and even the Constitution itself are not guidelines to which they must adhere, but merely obstacles to be surmounted." Would that the Left and their enablers would trust the "wisdom of the crowd" (even a crowd of New Yorkers) as opposed to leaning upon their own flawed understanding.

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