Monday, March 29, 2010

The Changing Climate Debate

It has been an eventful few months for people following the "settled" climate change debate. Last December began with the Climategate scandal involving emails that have raised questions about the data the International Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has relied on to make its forecasts. That was followed by the spectacular failure at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. January brought an upset special election in Massachusetts that made already skittish moderate Democrats even less inclined to vote on a climate change bill. Then there was the discovery that some of the IPCC’s most extreme predictions about the impact of climate change were based not on peer-reviewed science but reports by environmental advocacy groups. And finally, the head of the U.N. Climate Change treaty process recently resigned and said that an international climate agreement was unlikely this year.

The momentum for passing climate change legislation that had been building over the last few years appears to be crumbling under the weight of misguided priorities. A healthy discussion about the science or realistic emission reduction goals was replaced by schemes to create a carbon market Wall Street could profit from and advocating an unprecedented level of government central planning.

All of these developments are a sign that the entire conversation needs to be changed. In many ways, the debate is stuck in the 1990s and needs to instead focus on the realities of today. Developed versus developing countries is becoming an irrelevant concept. Globalization has fueled the rapid economic growth of several Asian countries, and made it clear that emissions-dependent industry can rapidly shift operations to avoid regulation. The focus needs to be on all major economies, where the bulk of emissions are generated now or will be in the future. All major economies need to be on board if a global climate change solution is going to be effective.

Energy security needs to be a front and center concern. We cannot take our energy resources for granted. China sure isn't. China is investing all over the world in traditional and alternative forms of energy. They are investing in the Canadian oil sands, oil reserves in Africa, and produce 95 percent of the world’s rare earth elements that are essential to the manufacture of wind mills and hybrid car batteries. They are securing their energy future while we dither over policies that will do nothing to address global greenhouse gas emissions or energy security. We need to develop our domestic energy resources and tap into the resources of friendly trading partners like Canada and Mexico.

If we don’t change the conversation and our priorities, we will be less energy secure and will have done nothing to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

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