I am attending a The Greenhouse Gas Emission Trading Workshop at the International Energy Agency in Paris. I feel like an alien, in more ways than one. For one thing, I am not a global warming–excuse me, “climate disruption”–true believer, which makes me a minority here–a minority of one, probably. Moreover, the anti-Americanism is palpable, and is all the worse because one of the most outspoken purveyors thereof is American. (Chatham House rules preclude me from naming names. But I am sorely tempted.) (I should also note that Canada and Australia were the subject of much criticism. I guess we are all just hopeless colonials.)
The perfect illustration. A Brit asked the American: “I understand American brains are wired differently, having two American daughters-in-law. [I pity them. And spare me the condescension, twit: wire this.] Given that cap and trade is the most business-friendly way of reducing carbon emissions, how can you explain the opposition of the Republicans, the pro-business party, to cap & trade?”
Uhm, is your brain wired at all? When it comes to cap AND trade, American opponents never even get to the trade part. That is a detail that is overwhelmed by the cap part. The political opposition in the US to cap and trade is all about the cap. Period. Opponents realize that capping carbon output will lead to higher energy prices. They don’t believe that there is a corresponding benefit to justify this cost. American opponents are hung up on the “reducing carbon emissions” part of the Brittwit’s question.
Amazing how silly a question one can ask when one assumes away the crucial issue. This is just an indication of the prevailing mindset here: the belief that capping emissions is blindingly self-evident, so that it does not even dawn on the questioner that the cap part is what people object to.
You may criticize American opponents as benighted for their failure to recognize the peril of anthropogenic global warming–excuse me, climate disruption–but given that belief, opposition to cap and trade, cap without trade, or cap with trade on even days and not on odd days makes perfect sense. It’s the cap, not the trade, and if you can’t see that you’re hopeless. Anything with the cap in it is political poison. [Apropos Monty Python: "Have you got anything without cap in it?" With a chorus of "cap, lovely cap" in the background.]
But the American’s response was even worse. He attributed the failure of cap and trade in the Senate to the “Republicans’ desire to deny the new president of a political victory.” [A few heads turned when I muttered, "you gotta be f*ckin' kidding me" under my breath.]
It is hard to say which would be worse: the speaker believes this bilge, or he does not. If he does not, he is just a liar and a political hack trying to score political points in a forum which is supposed to be a place for serious intellectual exchange. If he does, he is utterly delusional. As a practical matter, Obama himself put cap and trade behind health care and financial regulation on his list of priorities; this represented a rare moment of political lucidity, because cap and trade is deeply unpopular. Moreover, if the Republicans were really intent on denying Obama a victory, they would have chosen health care. But in point of fact, as the health care issue proved clearly, and as the financial “reform” legislation demonstrated further, the Republicans independently had no ability whatsoever to deny Obama a victory, given their shrunken numbers in both House and Senate.
No, cap and trade failed because (a) it was a stepchild in an already crowded and ambitious political family, and (b) anything that raises energy prices is broadly unpopular in straitened economic times.
Not that the true believers would have any interest in taking political advice from me, but I’ll offer up some. If you want to achieve your goal, (a) get out of the echo chamber, and (b) take the opposition seriously and address its concerns head on, rather than writing it off to colonial stupidity, or mis-wired brains, or mean spirited political oppositionism, or whatever. Condescension and ridicule may play well in the Circle of True Believers, but you know what?: (a) every adult in the US gets to vote on 2 November, (b) a lot of the true believers don’t get to vote at all, being furriners and such, and (c) it is just this elitist disdain that has set the stage for a political earthquake in a little over a month.
You know they won’t change. I know they won’t change. Which means that they are going to get what’s coming to them–good and hard (apologies to Mencken) in six weeks and a day.