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.
But the science is not there, either. Even our friends at The New Republic admit as much, writing of the warming slowdown: “Scientists themselves aren’t entirely sure what the evidence means. If scientific models can’t project the last 15 years, what does that mean for their projections of the next 100?” Uncertainty about the amount of warming over the next century entails uncertainty about the size, character, and cost of its effects. But the next century is not what Democrats are thinking about: They are thinking about 2014 and 2016.
But there are immediate concerns, too. Most significant, the president telegraphed his intention to torpedo the Keystone XL pipeline project, which has long been ready to go but has been snarled up by politics. President Obama has offered any number of excuses for not approving the project, and his newest one is that the pipeline and the energy it contributes to the economy must not “significantly exacerbate” the emissions of greenhouse gases, which the president likes to call “carbon pollution.” That term is itself an attempt to confuse the debate: It refers not to traditional kinds of pollution such as carbon monoxide, the stuff that comes out of your exhaust pipe, but to carbon dioxide, the stuff that comes out of your nose.
In any case, the State Department long ago concluded that the pipeline would not be a significant new contributor to greenhouse-gas emissions, which should suggest a speedy approval. (We are not inclined to take Obama’s State Department at its word, but that is no reason the president shouldn’t.) Instead, what this likely presages is another round of dilatory studies designed to hold the project hostage while Democrats studiously avoid annoying their small but generous environmental-extremist constituency.
The United States is poised for an energy renaissance, which is already under way in places such as Texas and Pennsylvania. The new energy economy stands ready not only to put millions of Americans to work and bring billions of dollars of new wealth into the economy but also to significantly change the balance of power in the world: Oil is the top contributor to our trade deficit, and energy supplies from the Middle East, Venezuela, and other unstable areas are a key security and economic vulnerability. Rather than develop what we already have, the Obama administration is threatening to hamstring our most likely source of economic growth and new jobs for the coming generation in the hopes that fads such as solar power will pay off. That is not justified by science, by economics, or by sensible policy analysis.
What it is, in fact, is an attempt by a foundering administration to change the subject from scandal to sunshine.