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Head-Clutching Buffoonery: Salon, Romm, and Kyoto


I hate these headlines:

The U.S. Must Become a Leader in Global Warming Solutions

No argument. No nothing. Just MUST! MUST!

That head is followed up by more MUST!

What will make Obama a great president

He must make the U.S. a world leader in global warming solutions. Then he must inspire China to follow suit.

Oh, is that all? All he has to do is take over China’s interior ministry and set industrial policy for Beijing? Should be a snap. Joseph Romm’s article in Salon is a model of argumentative lameness. Here’s a quick read-through and mark-up:

Dec. 4, 2008 | Has any U.S. president come into office with higher expectations from foreign countries? [KDW: FDR maybe? Truman?] Perhaps the greatest expectation is that Barack Obama will reverse George W. Bush’s all-too-successful eight-year effort to thwart international climate negotiations [KDW: The U.S. part of the derailment really happened in 1997; surely the greatest expectation is that he will end the war?] and that it will participate in the development of a new climate treaty in Copenhagen in 2009.

… Yet for all his talents, Obama can’t move the immovable conservatives in Congress. [KDW: He returns to these "conservatives" several times. The vote against the Kyoto treaty in 1997 was 95-0. The Clinton administration opposed Kyoto. That's stretching the definition of "conservative."] He can’t deliver the 67 Senate votes needed to approve any international treaty [KDW: Are there non-international treaties?] that is likely to come out of the UNFCCC negotiating process in Copenhagen. Yes, Democrats have expanded their majority in the Senate, edging close to the magical 60 votes needed to stop filibusters, and they just may get there on key issues with the help of the few remaining moderate Republicans.

… Why would European companies (and those elsewhere) pay for the right to emit greenhouse gases in, say, 2011, when they will have no binding restrictions on their emissions in 2013? And if there is no subsequent agreement, there can be no enforceable penalty for countries that miss their targets. [KDW: Ding ding ding! And why would U.S. companies pay to have themselves disadvantaged by a arrangements that will surely discriminate against U.S. firms and favor those in India and China?]

Since conservatives [KDW: And on and on with the conservatives.] can ensure there is no U.S.-ratified treaty, Obama must pursue a different strategy, a high-leverage approach focusing on the world’s major emitters. Only two dozen countries account for about 85 percent of global emissions, and none of the remaining countries alone accounts for even 1 percent. [KDW: And how much of global GDP do those countries account for? The U.S. consumes a disproportionate share of the world's energy but produces an even more disproportionate share of the world's economic value. Shouldn't that enter the calculation?]

… Talks with China over climate action will probably be the most difficult and most important negotiations in U.S. and world history. [KDW: Most important negotiations in world history? Surely that is hyperbole.] I have spoken to a number of experts on Chinese energy and climate policy, who say the leaders of the country understand the nature of the threat that climate change poses to them — including the loss of inland glaciers that provide water for the rivers on which hundreds of millions rely. They say that strong U.S. domestic action, coupled with strong U.S. international leadership, could move China to act. Others tell me China will not agree to emissions reductions anytime soon, since it sees itself as a developing nation with much higher priorities.[KDW: So the "conservatives" holding up the climate-police state now include Chinese communist bosses, who have "higher priorities." Since when does China favor "strong U.S. international leadership" when it comes to their internal affairs? This is naive to the point of intellectual dishonesty.]

… The stunning revelation of an ozone hole drove … [KDW: Long detour into ozone-layer discussion, with plenty of "stunning revelation"-level rhetoric.]

… The health and well-being of future generations rests on the United States and China ending their mutual suicide pact. China won’t act until we do, and we won’t act if they don’t. President Obama can lead this nation in breaking half of that self-destructive cycle with a strong domestic climate bill. [KDW: But earlier in the piece he writes: "the West got suckered into giving China some $6 billion to destroy greenhouse gas refrigerants that probably cost Chinese companies $100 million to capture and destroy." Fool the West once .... ]

Future historians will inevitably judge all 21st-century presidents as failures if the world doesn’t stop catastrophic global warming. … During the transition period, Obama should appoint a high-level envoy — paging Al Gore — to engage in direct shuttle diplomacy with China and other key emitters. He should meet with Chinese leaders himself in the first half of 2009. His presidency — and the fate of humanity — depend on it. [KDW: Predicting the weather 100 years out is questionable enough; predicting the opinions of historians in the future's future -- historians of what happens a century from now -- is just not intellectually credible.]

And the kicker:

Joseph Romm is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he oversees He is the author of “Hell and High Water: Global Warming — The Solution and the Politics.” Romm served as acting assistant secretary of energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy in 1997. He holds a Ph.D. in physics from MIT. [KDW: This translates: He should know better.]

I have no bone to pick with the climate science. But the fact that the science is solid does not mean that the political conclusions extracted from it are solid — science isn’t politics, politics isn’t science. And it certainly doesn’t justify this kind of hysterical, end-is-near raving. Romm’s language is the language of religious fundamentalism. This sort of non-argument makes it less likely that legitimate environmental concerns will get a reasonable hearing.


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