November 18, 2009
Statement on "Climate Pragmatism" from BTI Founders Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus
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The best way to move forward on climate policy is to not focus on climate at all.
That's the conclusion of new report by authors from Oxford, London School of Economics, Third Way, the American Enterprise Institute, the Breakthrough Institute and others. Climate Pragmatism argues that we can move past the climate wars by focusing on what we already agree on: energy innovation, pollution reduction, and resilience to extreme weather.
While there is no evidence -- and indeed, great counter-evidence -- that nations can reduce their carbon emissions through caps, there is more than 200 years of evidence of nations moving to cleaner energy, reducing toxic air pollution, and adapting to the climate. These three pillars of climate pragmatism swim with, rather than against, the process of human development and modernization.
In a story for Time Magazine, environment writer Bryan Walsh writes:
The "Climate Pragmatism" paper explodes a myth that's held by many greens: that energy is too cheap. For most of the world, the opposite is true, which is why more than 1.4 billion people lack virtually any access to electricity. That's an astounding figure, but one that rarely gets the attention it deserves. Lack of electricity impacts public health -- try running a modern hospital without any power -- and retards economic growth. If we want developing nations to be better prepared to deal with the effects of climate change -- or just about any other threat -- we need to get them wired.
Where the old climate regime spent 20 years developing a bureaucracy waiting on the two largest emitters -- China and the U.S. -- Climate Pragmatism says that we can get started right away doing more of the things we already agree on and have great experience doing.
Such an approach disappoints climate warriors and partisans. Al Gore, for one, is organizing another day of PowerPoint lectures. But public support for the environment is at more than 30 year-low, cap and trade is dead, perhaps for good, and global warming has become as partisan and polarizing an issue as abortion and gun control.
Climate Pragmatism also comes at a time when national political leaders are moving toward a more pragmatic approach to climate. In the Guardian/Yale360, we argue that Obama's greatest contribution to the environment was moving the Democratic discourse away from global warming apocalypse and toward economic aspiration. Last week, when New York Mayor Bloomberg donated $50 million to anti-coal activism, he pointedly framed his remarks around public health, not climate change.
Climate warriors and skeptics will, to be sure, keep their 20-year feud alive. But they may no longer impede climate progress.
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