Tuesday, December 1, 2015

David Brooks is not optimistic—so I guess everything will be fine

Photo by Frank J. Regan via examiner.com.
Shorter David Brooks, "The Green Tech Solution", New York Times, December 1 2015:
Sure Republican politicians are bad, pretending to believe there's no such thing as global warming out of fear of Rush Limbaugh, but aren't Democratic politicians more or less the same, hoping that a formal agreement among 130-something countries to reduce carbon emissions could help to slow the warming process? After all, governments will probably cheat, so it would be much better to get corporations to do everything.
Brooks's example of governments cheating is China:
Already, the Chinese government made a grandiose climate change announcement but then was forced to admit that its country was burning 17 percent more coal than it had previously disclosed.
Sadly, no. They weren't "forced to admit" anything. The Chinese statistical agency found in 2013 that data collection from small companies and factories had been inadequate and published revised statistics. You must be thinking of Volkswagen. (Which rightwingers, naturally, are blaming not on Volkswagen but the EPA for failing to catch them, although the first thing the foundation-funded International Council on Clean Transportation that did catch them did with its data was to send it to the EPA and the California Air Resources Board, because that's how it works.)

In fact the extraordinary transparency on these matters of the normally secretive Chinese government, alongside its remarkable progress in green technology, especially the development of solar power, is the best evidence that relatively untrustworthy governments can do the right thing when it comes to saving their citizens from choking to death on unbreathable air (then there are Indonesia and Brazil, unable to stop corporations from destroying their forests, but there are hopeful signs that this could turn around—Indonesia should be getting expanded support for forest protection from the Paris negotiations, and Brazil's pledges in advance of the conference are considerably more significant than previous ones, though not good enough), as the Volkswagen case shows that even the most environmentally conscious companies can let you down in terrible ways.

Brooks offers a Safire-style frame story about calling up the ghost of Alexander Hamilton to be the mouthpiece of what he wants to say, which might be amusing if he understood the Hamiltonian view of government's infrastructural responsibilities in building a better polity and followed it through to the present Obama program of international polity building. The odd thing is, he actually makes a retroactionary argument, with a narrative that seems to fade backwards in time as the column moves forward—starting out with that crack about Republicans, then moving on to criticize the concept of the Paris conference—
And you’re asking for all this top-down coercion to last a century, without any enforcement mechanism.
(if it doesn't have enforcement, why are you using the word "coercion"?), the concept of cap and trade carbon pricing—
Cap and trade has not worked out so well in Europe. Over all, the Europeans have spent $280 billion on climate change with very little measurable impact on global temperatures.
(the European program certainly has its problems, but it was never expected to have a large effect global temperatures on its own, since Europe only produces 10% of the emissions in the first place, and in any case the various methods used by EU countries have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 23% since 1990, reaching the lowest levels ever on record, while in the US it's still rather higher than it was in 1990)), and suggests we should be satisfied with "what you're already doing" in the United States, which I believe means the Obama program of massive funding for renewable energy programs and green jobs? no, he's still going on about fracking—and finally winds up in the remote American past in a Hamilton citation from Lin-Manuel Miranda:
Sometimes like your country you got to be young, scrappy and hungry and not throw away your shot.
Sometimes your country is not especially young, scrappy, and hungry, like when it's 239 years old and the richest country in the world, and you might want to not run off to be on your own on the frontier but rather exercise some of that mature leadership, not by coercion but by example—showing the other countries how renewal energy projects, for instance, can have benefits that outweigh the costs right now, and sharing your wealth to help the poor countries catch up, and speaking seriously.

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