It is bizarre to observe Obama’s burning desire to reproduce the European welfare state in the US (on full display in his inaugural address) at the same time that model is collapsing before our eyes. But another element of Obama’s address reveals that his disconnect between a desire to reproduce European policies at the same time as those policies are lapsing into farce is not limited to the welfare state alone. On Monday, Obama pledged a renewed commitment to combating “climate change.” (When has climate been static, by the way?) Ironically, on Monday, the FT ran an article describing the near collapse of the EU’s emission trading (cap-and-trade) market:
Carbon prices have fallen to a record low of less than €5 a tonne, pushing the European Union’s eight-year-old emissions trading system into a crisis.
Benchmark EU carbon prices yesterday dropped to a session low of €4.79 a tonne – down nearly 20 per cent over the past week – after Germany’s failure on Friday to sell carbon permits triggered a crisis of confidence.
As the article notes, this follows hard on the collapse of the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism. Kyoto is dead. The regional/state markets in the US (REGGI and California) are wheezing, at best.
So why not a new Big Push (cue Douglas Haig) on climate change? What could possibly go wrong?
Better yet, why bother with the pesky legislative branch when pursuing this endeavor in the face of a truly global record of failure? After all, Congress might be subject to feedback, and we can’t have that. Thus, according to Bloomberg, Obama plans to pursue his Quixotic venture (almost literally so, given the prominence of windmills in alternative energy efforts) via executive order and regulation, rather than legislation. Again: what could possibly go wrong, putting what is arguably the worst, most dangerous government regulator, the EPA in charge of this?
Not to mention that these initiatives at the level of individual nations, or even large multinational blocks, will be costly, and have virtually no impact on global temperatures. All pain, no gain. It is utterly insane for California to attempt unilaterally to control emissions: it is only slightly less insane for the US to do so. But that’s the way Obama wants to go, despite the collapse of similar initiatives around the world.
But maybe that just reflects the fact that these endeavors are driven more by a religious and ideological belief than a commitment to tackle an issue an a practical way that wrestles with empirical and political realities, and weighs costs and benefits. For people so driven, ostentatious sacrifice and adherence to ritual are valued in their own right, not for their practical consequences. Incurring a cost signals the depth of commitment, and that’s what matters. The pain is the gain. For them, that is. For the rest of us who are not wedded to such beliefs, not so much.