It is remarkable that when the scientific consensus on global warming is at its weakest state in years, President Barack Obama has decided to make the issue a new focus of his troubled presidency — and, indeed, that he intends to use the issue as the launching pad for a radical extension of federal power even more significant than his health-care takeover.
President Obama campaigned as a man of science, though he himself has no scientific training. He lambasted his critics as being anti-science Luddites and even enjoyed an endorsement from Bill Nye the Science Guy, who allowed his name to be associated with dishonest and unfair attacks on Republicans. Barack Obama, of course, is not a science guy. For example, he has flattered far-left conspiracy theories about common vaccinations, saying, “The science right now is inconclusive,” which is a position about as scientifically defensible as claiming that the dinosaurs went extinct because Fred Flintstone ordered too many bronto-burgers.
Global warming, contrary to the predictions of the best climate models, is not accelerating. It is slowing, and some estimates show it having been reversed. The warmest year on record was 1998, and there has been significantly less warming in the last 15 years than there was in the 20 years before that. The Economist, which supports measures to control greenhouse-gas emissions and has been a reliable hotbed of warming alarmism, conceded: “There’s no way around the fact that this reprieve for the planet is bad news for proponents of policies, such as carbon taxes and emissions treaties, meant to slow warming by moderating the release of greenhouse gases. . . . They will become harder, if not impossible, to sell to the public, which will feel, not unreasonably, that the scientific and media establishment has cried wolf.”
If only President Obama simply had cried wolf. Instead, the president announced that, on behalf of “all of humankind,” he is in effect directing the EPA to take over the American economy. New power plants will be subject to emissions controls, and existing plants will have to be retrofitted to comply with new standards. New restrictions on heavy trucks will affect the movement of freight and goods across the country. New subsidies will be handed down for politically connected energy firms, and federal lands will be set aside for their use. New federal impositions will affect the construction of factories, commercial buildings, and private homes. The president says that this is all enabled by the “overwhelming judgment of science.”
It certainly has not been enabled by something so mundane as the law. We rather suspect that the overwhelming judgment of Congress would be against the president’s program of regimenting the entire American economy under the management of a newly empowered EPA. But the president has made it clear that he intends to act largely through administrative fiat, subverting the democratic process and the people’s elected representatives. Unhappily, the Supreme Court has abetted this ambition by misconstruing the Clean Air Act as a warrant of action on global warming.
Every economic activity involving energy or transportation — which is to say, every economic activity — will be affected by the president’s global-warming program.
Consider the president’s thinking: While the value of vaccinations is undisputed among scientists, he believes that it requires more research, because people who are prone to lunatic theories about vaccines vote Democratic. But when it comes to the climate, he acts not only as though there were no scientific questions in dispute but as though capital-S Science had corporately blessed his policy agenda. Even if the scientific consensus on global warming had not been weakened by the past 15 years’ worth of data, the policies the president proposes would not necessarily logically follow from that consensus. Limits on greenhouse gases in the United States are likely to have no effect at all on the atmosphere of a planet that includes China, India, and their factories and people. Even the most radical changes in the United States would likely have a negligible effect on climate change, which is if nothing else a global phenomenon by definition. Even if we had absolute scientific certainty, we would also have another kind of certainty: that China and India, and many other countries, are not going to radically reduce their peoples’ standards of living to accommodate Barack Obama’s policy preferences.