Politics & Policy

The Climate-Change Distraction in Paris

Climate-change protest at the Place de la Repubique in Paris, November 29, 2015. (Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty)

Today in Paris, a city recently beset by one of the horrors of our time, world leaders will gather to address the issue of global warming, or climate change, or climate disruption, or whatever it is we’re supposed to call it now that the phrase “global warming” has been declared verboten by the marketing departments of the world’s green-subsidy consumers. Jihad Inc. is sawing the heads off of innocents in the here and now, but the world’s attention is commanded by the possibility that average temperatures might rise a few degrees a century hence at a cost of a few points of global economic output sometime in the 22nd century.

Global warming isn’t a non-issue — the ambitious multilateral plan to impose extraordinary standard-of-living reductions on a few billion mainly poor people in mainly poor countries in order to satisfy the secularized sacramental impulses of rich Western progressives is a non-issue, because it simply is not going to happen, as India and China have made clear.

The suave diplomacy of the Obama administration is here on sorry display. It has long been obvious that the powers in New Delhi will not impose serious costs on their economy for the sake of climate change; indeed, the government of Narendra Modi recently announced with some fanfare that India, GDP $7.5 trillion, would invest the princely sum of $2.5 million to help smaller Commonwealth countries meet emissions-reduction targets. There are a fair number of young entrepreneurs in India with personal automobiles worth more than $2.5 million. But India is known to emit a fair amount of sanctimony alongside the CO2 from its endless array of coal-fired power plants, and its political class is going into Paris in a snit after Secretary of State John Kerry singled out the world’s largest democratic republic (rather than, say, China) as a climate offender. It isn’t that Kerry is exactly wrong about that — India intends to double its coal consumption over the next five years, to 1.5 billion tons per annum — but his gracelessness plays into rhetoric about “carbon imperialism” that has been prominent in the developing world for some time now.

#share#Those denouncing “carbon imperialism” note that the West got rich while energy was cheap and there was no formal price on carbon emissions, and they argue that the burdens of meeting the emissions cuts imagined by such as are gathering today in Paris must fall on the West. Prime Minister Modi, who is seeking to bolster a domestic solar-power industry, is seeking substantial subsidies and other benefits (such as accelerated low-cost technology transfers) for so-called green-energy firms and projects in India and elsewhere. Modi, as committed a nationalist as any boss in Beijing, has made it clear that he will follow his predecessors in making a great deal of sanctimonious noise about the issue while absolutely refusing anything that imposes any real costs. The Chinese are working with a similar strategy: They have offered any number of vague promises and conciliatory talk about shared responsibility, but the calculations of economic advantage and disadvantage are what they are, and Beijing will not willingly deal itself a losing hand.

RELATED: On Climate, Science and Politics Are Diverging

Relying on cuts in the West alone, it is probably a physical impossibility to achieve the reductions that the more alarmist global-warming activists envision. It is certainly — unquestionably — an economic and political impossibility. In reality, it probably is a political and economic impossibility to make cuts at that level with China and India on board, too, inasmuch as any Chinese or Indian government that actually attempted to impose the necessary reductions in living standards on the people of their countries — who are, let us remember, already poor – would jeopardize its existence.

#related#The agenda in Paris, then, is to talk about agreeing to reforms today that almost certainly will be violated the day after tomorrow to prevent — possibly — a serious but manageable problem a century or so from now. This is a fool’s errand, and the gentlemen in Beijing and New Delhi know it, which is why they will commit almost nothing to the project in real and immediate terms. Global warming is one part moral crusade and one part hustle, with various green-energy entrepreneurs and salary-seeking politicos looking to cut themselves in on the trillions of dollars (in subsidies, research grants, agency budgets, tradeable credits, etc.) that global-warming mitigation schemes put on the table.

Real-world adaptation strategies? There’s not much juice in that.

Our one hope is that while the world’s worthies are gathered in Paris to talk about all the wonderful things that they are not going to do to prevent the possibility of a far-off problem, they might meet for a sideline talk or two, perhaps even a working breakfast, about the possibility of developing a strategy to deploy against the global problem that turned the streets of their host into an abattoir in the here and now.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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