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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Thomas L. Friedman: Is It Weird Enough Yet?

Is It Weird Enough Yet?

Every time I listen to Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota talk about how climate change is some fraud perpetrated by scientists trying to gin up money for research, I’m always reminded of one of my favorite movie lines that Jack Nicholson delivers to his needy neighbor who knocks on his door in the film “As Good As It Gets.” “Where do they teach you to talk like this?” asks Nicholson. “Sell crazy someplace else. We’re all stocked up here.”
Josh Haner/The New York Times
Thomas L. Friedman
Thanks Mr. Perry and Mrs. Bachmann, but we really are all stocked up on crazy right now. I mean, here is the Texas governor rejecting the science of climate change while his own state is on fire — after the worst droughts on record have propelled wildfires to devour an area the size of Connecticut. As a statement by the Texas Forest Service said last week: “No one on the face of this earth has ever fought fires in these extreme conditions.”
Remember the first rule of global warming. The way it unfolds is really “global weirding.” The weather gets weird: the hots get hotter; the wets wetter; and the dries get drier. This is not a hoax. This is high school physics, as Katharine Hayhoe, a climatologist in Texas, explained on Joe Romm’s invaluable blog: “As our atmosphere becomes warmer, it can hold more water vapor. Atmospheric circulation patterns shift, bringing more rain to some places and less to others. For example, when a storm comes, in many cases there is more water available in the atmosphere and rainfall is heavier. When a drought comes, often temperatures are already higher than they would have been 50 years ago, and so the effects of the drought are magnified by higher evaporation rates.”
CNN reported on Sept. 9, 2011, that “Texas had the distinction of experiencing the warmest summer on record of any state in America, with an average of 86.8 degrees. Dallas residents sweltered for 40 consecutive days of grueling 100-plus degree temperatures. ... Temperature-related energy demands soared more than 22% above the norm this summer, the largest increase since record-keeping of energy demands began more than a century ago.”
There is still much we don’t know about how climate change will unfold, but it is no hoax. We need to start taking steps, as our scientists urge, “to manage the unavoidable and avoid the unmanageable.” If you want a quick primer on the latest climate science, tune into “24 Hours of Reality.” It is a worldwide live, online update that can be found at and will be going on from Sept. 14-15, over 24 hours, with contributors from 24 time zones.
Not only has the science of climate change come under attack lately, so has the economics of green jobs. Here the critics have a point — sort of. I wasn’t surprised to read that the solar panel company Solyndra, which got $535 million in loan guarantees from the Department of Energy to make solar panels in America, filed for bankruptcy protection two weeks ago and laid off 1,100 workers. This story is an embarrassment to the green jobs movement, but the death by bankruptcy was a collaboration of the worst Democratic and Republican impulses.
How so? There is only one effective, sustainable way to produce “green jobs,” and that is with a fixed, durable, long-term price signal that raises the price of dirty fuels and thereby creates sustained consumer demand for, and sustained private sector investment in, renewables. Without a carbon tax or gasoline tax or cap-and-trade system that makes renewable energies competitive with dirty fuels, while they achieve scale and move down the cost curve, green jobs will remain a hobby.
President Obama has chosen not to push for a price signal for political reasons. He has opted for using regulations and government funding. In the area of regulation, he deserves great credit for just pushing through new fuel economy standards that will ensure that by 2025 the average U.S. car will get the mileage (and have the emissions) of today’s Prius hybrid. But elsewhere, Obama has relied on green subsidies rather than a price signal. Some of this has really helped start-ups leverage private capital, but you also get Solyndras. The G.O.P. has blocked any price signal and fought every regulation. The result too often is taxpayer money subsidizing wonderful green innovation, but with no sustainable market within which these companies can scale.
Let’s fix that. We need revenue to balance the budget. We need sustainable clean-tech jobs. We need less dependence on Mideast oil. And we need to take steps to mitigate climate change — just in case Governor Perry is wrong. The easiest way to do all of this at once is with a gasoline tax or price on carbon. Would you rather cut Social Security and Medicare or pay a little more per gallon of gas and make the country stronger, safer and healthier? It still amazes me that our politicians have the courage to send our citizens to war but not to ask the public that question.

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