Sunday, August 13, 2006

Global Warming's Political Spin

In the September issue of The Atlantic, Greg Easterbrook, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute, offers some thoughts on the prevailing debate on global warming (subscription required).

Easterbrook chastises Democrats and Republicans alike for inaction in the political arena, citing the gloom and doom of Al Gore's apocalyptic vision and the disingenuous arguments of Republicans who suggest that restrictions on greenhouse gases would cripple our economy. To prove his case, Easterbrook points to the successes of recent years in battling major problems in air pollution.

Since 1970, smog-forming air pollution has declined by a third to a half. Emissions of CFCs have been nearly eliminated and studies suggest that ozone-layer replenishment is beginning. Acid rain, meanwhile, has declined by a third since 1990, while Appalachian forest health has improved sharply......

One might expect Democrats to trumpet the decline of air pollution, which stands as one of government's leading postwar achievements. But just as Republicans have found they can bash Democrats by falsely accusing them of being soft on defense, Democrats have found they can bash Republicans by falsely accusing them of destroying the environment. If that's your argument, you might skip over the evidence that many environmental trends are positive. One might also expect Republicans to trumpet the reduction of air pollution, since it signifies responsible behavior by industry. But to acknowledge that air pollution has declined would require Republicans to say the words, "The regulations worked."

Last year's monster storms and this year's record-breaking drought have settled the debate. Global warming is now accepted as fact by most Americans. But compared with our foreign counterparts, Americans take the issue less seriously. Perhaps they are waiting to take their cue from our political leaders. As Easterbrook notes, "It only remains for the right politician to recast the challenge in practical, optimistic tones."

Recently, a disparate group of politicians is attempting to do just that.

This month, former president Bill Clinton launched an effort with 22 of the world's largest cities to cut their emissions, while Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, a Republican, and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain said they would explore trading carbon dioxide pollution credits across the Atlantic.

And in his recent press release, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell expanded his "Healthy Texas" environmental plan to include the following:

State regulation limiting the emissions of carbon dioxide, the number one cause of global warming. The goal of these new rules will be to reduce CO2 emissions by up to 80%.

Give the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ) the authority to require power companies to consider coal gasification (IGCC) as an alternative technology to the pulverized coal burning plants that threaten our air and our climate.

Give the TCEQ the authority to require that applicant for new air permits show that their newly permitted facilities will not negatively impact the ability of Houston and Dallas/Ft. Worth to meet the federal clean air requirements by the 2010 deadline.

Institute state requirements and incentive programs for commercial builders in Texas to use building materials and techniques that reduce the radiant heating of our urban areas.

To view the complete plan:

Whether Texans are ready for this issue in the political debate, and whether the Bell campaign can strike the right balance between alarm and optimism, have yet to be determined.

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