- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

We are all global-warming alarmists now. President Bush’s speech yesterday outlining the goal of halting the growth of greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States by 2025 runs the unusual gauntlet of promising something the private sector will probably deliver on its own — witness the spontaneous rise of “carbon offsets” and green investing — while also kicking the intellectual legs out from under a defensible conservative position on climate change.

To be sure, the president’s position is parsimonious by Al Gore’s standards. It omits a cap-and-trade scheme; it is much less ambitious than the coming Senate proposal, which targets 2012 for the same emissions goals; it shuns tax increases; it strives to remain technologically feasible on today’s terms, unlike many others; and it urges Congress, not bureaucrats, to hash out national policy on the subject.

But it also guts what remains of the executive branch’s conservative possibilities on the subject of global warming. The strongest conservative position on global warming is as follows: Climate change is happening, always has happened and always will; humans contribute to it to some unknown degree; a hysterical U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has leapt far ahead of the science, and, in its politicized discredit, should be ignored; climate policy is to be determined by elected officials, not unaccountable technocrats; it is surely worth society’s efforts to fund, study and develop realistic alternatives to fossil fuels in the event that the man-made impact turns out to be significant — this is advisable for security reasons also; the leading liberal proposals are simply too expensive; and, crucially, forcible mandates are harmful. Productive government attention to technical and scientific problems always more readily resembles the efforts of the National Institutes of Health, ARPANET (the Internet precursor) or the Manhattan Project than mere decrees. Technological research and innovation are the best means of harnessing ingenuity to solve mankind’s technical, scientific and environmental problems.

The administration has ceded this intellectually and morally defensible high ground by acting as though the alarmists are correct on first principles while also declining to deliver the platform suggested by those principles. It is weak and tepid. Since this president could easily be the last Republican occupant of the Oval Office for some time — and the viable presidential candidates are all global-warming alarmists — that is significant.

As the Bush administration seems to regard things, the aim is to build a system with this last point in mind: One that does not bankrupt the economy or harm consumers unduly. Some kind of greenhouse-gas emissions framework is needed now, spokesmen argue, to ward off an economically disastrous plan under a President Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John McCain.

We’re glad to hear that Republicans still consider spending restraint and a working economy to be governing priorities. But we’ve already seen the results of such an approach. Over the last several years, key industries and their lobbyists have endorsed and helped develop various global-warming schemes on the premise that this train has already left the station. They must get on board, or they will be left behind. This may be true in the most immediate short-term self-serving sense for a given industry or company. It is to be expected as lobbyists maximize influence in Washington. But this simply fast-forwards the debate ahead of unresolved scientific and economic questions — where it belongs — and drives it prematurely into public policy, where it threatens disaster.

The new Bush initiative doesn’t fit well in the final months of a conservative White House administration seeking to solidify its legacy.


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