Streetwise Professor

September 20, 2010

Postcard From Another Galaxy

Filed under: Climate Change,Economics,Politics — The Professor @ 1:28 pm

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.

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  1. My impression is you’re taking this all too personally.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — September 21, 2010 @ 1:07 am

  2. How’s that EU emission trading mechanism working out?

    Not so well. During Phase 1, the price of power doubled (tripled in some places), volatility increased, & many companies “made out” on their allocations. Oh, and the emissions reductions they were seeking? No significant reduction in those, either.

    Comment by MEBarham — September 21, 2010 @ 9:19 am

  3. @S/O (again: what, you’ve stopped progressing?) They were taking it very seriously. Very. And Jacksonians tend to take slights delivered in this way quite personally.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — September 21, 2010 @ 12:40 pm

  4. 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.

    I made a similar point back in February 2005, reprinted in April 2006.

    Comment by Tim Newman — September 22, 2010 @ 3:02 am

  5. The difference in opinion between Americans and Europeans regarding various cap and trade schemes is easy to understand. Those who live in cultures that have traditionally acquiesced to the divine right of kings gladly do as they are told by “experts” who (often for direct financial gain) promote theories of AGW and the need for all to sacrifice for the good of the state. If necessary, these “experts” will use falsified data or espouse theories they know to be flawed and the people are expected to simply acquiesce and do as they are told. England and France, have employed their nanny states welfare schemes as an opiate to dull the mechanisms of critical thinking of the populace. The Russian people, long ago, lost the ability to think for themselves. They have followed their “government experts” down a long path to arrive at the shithole that is their current fate (One reason American conservatives are resisting the desire of the Obama administration to install a socialist nanny state in the U.S. is that they have seen the damage such schemes have done to the various European states and how the people have lost their freedoms as the state assumes greater control of the lives of the people).

    Americans (at least conservative Americans) do not believe that the creator endowed only certain people with the ability to understand the forces of nature. Hence, we are much more skeptical than our European friends or “progressives” in the U.S. when politicians drive up in a motorcade of gas guzzling SUV’s and declare that the people must turn hundreds of billions of dollars of hard earned money to certain “intellectual elites” who will be unaccountable to the people so these “intellectual elites” can finance various schemes to alter the forces of nature as they alone feel appropriate.

    I’m curious about one thing – at the conference, was East Anglia University and their little scandal even discussed or have our intellectual elite friends from across the pond decided that that little matter can’t be defended and therefore should just be ignored?

    Comment by Charles — September 22, 2010 @ 6:17 am

  6. The evidence for AGW is so overwhelming by this point that to deny it is to reveal oneself to be one or several of (1) willfully ignorant, (2) an ideologue, (3) paid up stooge, or (4) contrarian just for the sake of it.

    What “little scandal”? The one that was invented by denier ideologues and later thoroughly debunked?

    @S/O (again: what, you’ve stopped progressing?)

    I’m always progressing.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — September 23, 2010 @ 4:41 am

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