In the Saturday edition of the NY Times, Al Gore took on climate skeptics and surveyed the land for pending cap-and-trade legislation. Of course, it’s no surprise that Gore has the ammunition to take down the Johnny-come-latelies.

It would be an enormous relief if the recent attacks on the science of global warming actually indicated that we do not face an unimaginable calamity requiring large-scale, preventive measures to protect human civilization as we know it….[W]hat a burden would be lifted! We would no longer have to worry that our grandchildren would one day look back on us as a criminal generation that had selfishly and blithely ignored clear warnings that their fate was in our hands. We could instead celebrate the naysayers who had doggedly persisted in proving that every major National Academy of Sciences report on climate change had simply made a huge mistake.

That’s right. Gore stacks up the National Academy of Sciences, in addition to the IPCC, against Inhofe’s list. And, then he corrects critics by pointing out that NASA “confirmed last month that the last 10 years were the hottest decade since modern records have been kept.” 

All of this is fun, but probably futile.  Serious people already understand that climate change is real.  The rest are unlikely to listen to Gore. His Op-Ed’s real value-add could be showing the way forward.  He does begin to defend cap-and-trade.

Some analysts attribute the failure to an inherent flaw in the design of the chosen solution — arguing that a cap-and-trade approach is too unwieldy and difficult to put in place. Moreover, these critics add, the financial crisis that began in 2008 shook the world’s confidence in the use of any market-based solution.

But…there is no readily apparent alternative that would be any easier politically. It is difficult to imagine a globally harmonized carbon tax or a coordinated multilateral regulatory effort. The flexibility of a global market-based policy — supplemented by regulation and revenue-neutral tax policies — is the option that has by far the best chance of success.

He ends by calling on Sens. Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman to include a strong cap on carbon emissions in legislation they will unveil this week, but not before describing in detail the social and systemic barriers to forward progress. These include:

  • “[t]he globalization of the economy,” which “has simultaneously heightened fears of further job losses in the industrial world and encouraged rising expectations in emerging economies,” resulting in “[h]eightened opposition, in both the industrial and developing worlds, to any constraints on the use of carbon-based fuels.”
  • the rise of “market fundamentalism that encouraged opponents of regulatory constraints to mount an aggressive effort to shift the internal boundary between the democracy sphere and the market sphere”
  • “the replacement of newspapers and magazines by television as the dominant medium of communication,” conferring “powerful advantages on wealthy advocates of unrestrained markets and weakened advocates of legal and regulatory reforms”

Of course, he’s brilliant, but, in the end, what’s the point?  Yes, climate change is real, and, yes, he’s done well illuminating the barriers, but it’s clear that the process is badly stuck. The old strategies aren’t working. That includes “hoping” that new climate legislation won’t drop cap-and-trade, as it is expected to.   With all the respect in the world, what we don’t need right now are lengthy essays showing the lay of the land.

What’s needed is a game-changing political strategy or a brawler willing to play hard.  I think Gore probably has both within him.  And he’s obviously well-positioned to lead. He’s the clear standard-bearer on this issue. I hope this is just the opening salvo in his new push that will include more frequent, harder-hitting, and shorter jabs against those standing in his way.

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