Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.: Climate Change Is the Liberal Non-Agenda

  • Date: 22/01/18
  • Holman W. Jenkins, Jr, The Wall Street Journal

It is important for today’s liberals to create a smoke-and-mirrors sideshow over issues like climate change because they have no agenda.

Fulfilling every stereotype of the phoney-baloney politician, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio last week sued the oil industry.

His argument, that oil companies cause a public nuisance in the form of greenhouse gases, has already been rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court. The five companies he wishes to blame for rising seas and unpleasant storms account for a tiny share of global CO2 output. Most of the world’s energy reserves are government-owned. The oil performed exactly as advertised. The public got exactly the benefit it expected. Where is the fraud?

“The City . . . does not seek to restrain Defendants from engaging in their business operations,” the lawsuit says. The city isn’t trying to stop climate change but to share in the booty. If New York and other locales that have launched or contemplated such lawsuits want to tax energy, why don’t they just tax energy?

Never mind. Not 10 members of Congress or most other elected officials could, within an order of magnitude, describe the CO2 component of the atmosphere. They couldn’t explain the misnamed greenhouse effect or what climate sensitivity is.

And for good reason: Learning anything about the subject would be a waste of their time when their positions were long ago pre-determined by which party they belong to and who their constituents are.

Those who find the Donald Trump Show some awful tragedy rather than a satirical extravaganza perhaps suffer a mistaken belief that he interrupted a political discourse that was operating on a high level.

Mr. de Blasio is an unusually lanky case in point. “It’s up to the fossil fuel companies whose greed put us in this position to shoulder the cost of making New York safer and more resilient,” he explained. So residents can go on enjoying their energy-rich, fossil fuel-enabled lifestyles, he didn’t add.

As a New York Times headline put it, “Battling Climate Change from the Back Seat of an S.U.V.”

The Sierra Club’s Michael Brune, with unintended irony, said, “This is what climate leadership looks like.”

Uh huh. This is exactly what climate leadership looks like nowadays. Under a whole range of likely future climate scenarios, the cost-benefit trade-off of meaningful action has become an impossible sell to voters and even in terms of payoff for distant generations.

But a meme is a terrible thing to waste. Keep the climate panic fluffed in the minds of receptive voters to promote careers like Mr. de Blasio’s, or to extract political rents for the green-energy impresarios who increasingly nestle in both parties.

Why don’t people like Mr. de Blasio put their effort into building support for something useful like a carbon tax, which could be sanely applied whatever the truth of climate change?

Because there is no upside for anybody—I mean anybody. For one thing, a carbon tax that set off a genuine competition for low-carbon solutions would not necessarily benefit today’s promoters of electric cars, wind farms, solar power or carbon sequestration. Better to get subsidies directly from politicians for their activities than take the chance that these solutions fail in the marketplace as efficient ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

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