- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 2, 2009

OPINION/ANALYSIS:

Regular readers of The Washington Times are all too familiar with the back-and-forth debate between those who favor federal legislation to curb greenhouse-gas emissions and those who view the measure as one thing and one thing only: a monstrous job killer.

I tend to fall on the side of those who see this “reform” as severely limiting our country’s ability to dominate in an increasingly competitive global economy with virtually one hand tied behind our back. To expect countries like India and China to step up and “do the right thing” on their egregious and sickening environmental records (committed during both Republican and Democratic administrations) simply because we are setting a “strong example” is rosy optimism at best and naive geopolitical stupidity at its worst.

Those questioning the workability of the House-passed measure have made a compelling case this summer. And the proof shows in the latest polls: Americans aren’t willing to sacrifice potential job losses or even higher energy bills for the highly imagined benefit of reduced emissions. I say “imagined” because there are simply no guarantees that other nations are even eager to follow suit, let alone prepared. China is still constructing coal-fired power plants at the rate of one per month. Think it will shutter the two it has built since the House passed its measure in June? Don’t bet the farm on it.

While I’m on the subject, it’s clear that China surpasses all other countries in its emissions of greenhouse gases into the world, but shouldn’t the more enviro-friendly focus be on importing emerging clean technologies into China? After all, it is the new de facto manufacturing base for the world. In effect, the world’s superpowers have outsourced their pollution to China. It’s time to start dumping clean-tech innovations on China, which is more of a long-term solution than insistence on the cleaning up of emissions that wield a marginal impact on climate change.

Yet the debate stateside started to turn south when Americans began asking their elected officials the same thing they’re now asking Congress regarding health reform: “What’s in it for me?”

Since before the president entered the Oval Office, the Left capitalized on Bush fatigue to push a far too ambitious social agenda that is only now petering out. Americans are rational beings; they think in a cost-benefit way. And to them, reducing the effects of global warming was a “benefit” that was far outweighed by the “costs” of lost productivity, job declines and higher input costs.

As they did with health care reform, President Obama and congressional Democrats failed to address the root causes of the problems they presented to the country. The president said the future of the economy’s health depended on health care reform. Americans weren’t buying that line. And in the case of climate change, opponents of cap-and-trade legislation seized the upper hand when they moved the issue from amorphous scientific claims to kitchen-table concerns.

After reading an interesting story recently in The Washington Post, I worry the climate-change opponents, however, are reverting to a tired argument that ultimately harms their credibility and standing in this debate.

In a front-page story, Post writer David Fahrenthold confirms that “environmentalists are struggling in a fight they have spent years setting up.” He continues: “Even now, these groups differ on whether to scare the public with predictions of heat waves or woo it with promises of green jobs. And they are facing an opposition with tycoon money and a gift for political stagecraft.”

Yet in an otherwise benign paragraph, Mr. Fahrenthold quotes a climate-change opponent questioning the fundamental arguments behind global warming. He writes, ” ‘The whole question of man-made climate change is really, really iffy,’ said limited-government activist Kelly Havens, speaking to a cheering, sign-waving crowd of about 200 at the recreational-vehicle hall of fame. ‘I mean, what was man doing when Indiana’s glaciers were melting? We weren’t even here!’ ”

Such red-meat conjuring on this activist’s part does more harm than good to the overall movement. For years, the Left and environmental crusaders pilloried anyone who dared question the “science” behind their self-deemed irrefutable claims that global warming was real and predatory. To anyone who publicly raised the notion, they were immediately dubbed a Neanderthal; a flat-Earth theorist who “still” believed in creationism. For its part, the media jumped all over the naysayers — using the “facts” to question the legitimacy of climate opponents’ arguments, ultimately undermining the otherwise strong standing of their skepticism writ large.

Yet both sides missed the point, and spent the better part of two years engaged in a debate that no one really cared about. To minivan moms and NASCAR dads, it doesn’t matter. All they care about is the quality of life for their children and families. Threaten to upset that equilibrium, and you have a fight on your hands. For the environmentalists, the greater danger to soccer mom was a warming planet. For the business community, the more prominent bogeyman was lost jobs and higher energy costs. That’s where this debate has been waged and won since the House passed its measure earlier this summer, and that’s where the fight should remain. To revert to complex, unprovable diatribes over greenhouse gases weakens the strong inroads the business community has made and dare not surrender now.

Anti-global warming proponents gained momentum on this issue when they focused on the kitchen-table concerns that cap-and-trade legislation likely would create, not fixations on how many inches the oceans rose in the past two centuries. Real world problems demand real world solutions. The president and congressional Democrats failed to make that important connection on climate change, just as they did on health care this summer. Unless and until they change their message and tactics - and maybe even their heavy-handed policies - Americans will continue to wonder aloud, “What’s in it for me?”

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