Not long ago, candidate Obama promised to cool the planet and lower the rising seas. Indeed, he campaigned on passing “cap-and-trade” legislation, a radical, costly effort to reduce America’s traditional carbon energy use.
The theory was that new taxes and greater regulations would make Americans pay more for fossil-fuel energy — a good thing if it reduced our burning of coal, oil, and gas. Obama was not shy in admitting that under his green plans, electricity prices would “necessarily skyrocket.” His energy secretary, Steven Chu, at one point even said, “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe” — that is, about $8–10 per gallon. Fairly or not, the warming movement appeared to be a tiny elite attempting to impose costs on a poorer and supposedly less informed middle class.
But despite a Democrat-controlled House and Senate in 2009–2010, President Obama never passed into law any global-warming legislation. Now the issue is deader than a doornail — despite the efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency to enact new regulations that would never pass Congress.
So what happened to the global-warming craze?
Corruption within the climate-change industry explains some of the sudden turnoff. “Climategate” — the unauthorized 2009 release of private e-mails from the Climatic Research Unit in the United Kingdom — revealed that many of the world’s top climate scientists were knee-deep in manipulating scientific evidence to support preconceived conclusions and personal agendas. Shrill warnings about everything from melting Himalayan glaciers to shrinking polar-bear populations turned out not always to be supported by scientific facts.
Unfortunately, during the last three years “green” has also become synonymous with Solyndra-style crony capitalism. Commonsense ideas like more windmills, solar panels, retro-fitted houses, and electric cars have all been in the news lately. But the common themes were depressingly similar: few jobs created and little competitively priced energy produced, but plenty of political donors who landed hundreds of millions of dollars in low-interest loans from the government.
Of course, it didn’t help that the world’s most prominent green spokesman, Nobel laureate Al Gore, made tens of millions of dollars from his own advocacy. And he adopted a lifestyle of jet travel and energy-hungry homes at odds with his pleas for everyone else to cut back.
But even without the corruption and hypocrisy, sincere advocates of the theory of man-made global warming themselves overreached. At news that the planet had not heated up at all during the last ten years, “global warming” gave way to “climate change” — as if to warn the public that unseasonable cold or wet weather was just as man-caused as were the old specters of drought and scorching temperatures.
Then, when “climate change” was still not enough to frighten the public into action, yet a third term followed: “climate chaos.” Suddenly some “green experts” claimed that even more terrifying disasters — from periodic hurricanes and tornadoes to volcanoes and earthquakes — could for the first time be attributed to the burning of fossil fuels. At that point, serially changing the name of the problem suggested to many that there might not be such a problem after all.
Current hard times also explain the demise of global-warming advocacy. With high unemployment and near-nonexistent economic growth, Americans do not want to shut down generating plants or pay new surcharges on their power bills. Most people worry first about having any car that runs — not whether it’s a more expensive green hybrid model.
Over the last half-century, Americans have agreed that smoky plants and polluting industries needed to be cleaned up. But when the green movement began to classify clean-burning heat as a pollutant, it began to lose the cash-strapped public.
While the Obama administration was subsidizing failed or inefficient green industries, radical breakthroughs in domestic fossil-fuel exploration and recovery — especially horizontal drilling and fracking — have vastly increased the known American reserves of gas and oil. Modern efficient engines have meant that both can be consumed with little, if any, pollution — at a time when a struggling U.S. economy is paying nearly half-a-trillion dollars for imported fossil fuels. The public apparently would prefer developing more of our own gas, oil, shale, tar sands, and coal as an alternative to going broke by either importing more fuels from abroad or subsidizing more inefficient windmills and solar panels at home.
We simply don’t know positively whether recent human activity has caused the planet to warm up to dangerous levels. But we do know that those who insist it has are sometimes disingenuous, often profit-minded, and nearly always impractical.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The End of Sparta, a novel about ancient freedom. © 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.