Paradigms in Collision
Wednesday, November 28, 2018
PARADIGMS IN COLLISION: In the afterglow of the holiday, a major scientific report issued by 13 federal agencies presented the starkest warnings to date of the consequences of climate change for the United States, predicting that if significant steps are not taken to rein in global warming, the damage will cripple as much as 10 percent of the American economy by century’s end.
“The report, which was mandated by Congress, is notable not only for the precision of its calculations and bluntness of its conclusions, but also because its findings are directly at odds with President Trump’s agenda of environmental deregulation, which he asserts will spur economic growth,” the New York Times reported.
In plain language, the assessment lays out the devastating effects of a changing climate on the economy, health and environment, including record wildfires in California, crop failures in the Midwest and crumbling infrastructure in the South. All told, the report says, climate change could slash up to a tenth of gross domestic product by 2100, more than double the losses of the Great Recession a decade ago.
“Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities,” the report authors assert. “The impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the United States and are projected to intensify in the future—but the severity of future impacts will depend largely on actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the changes that will occur. Americans increasingly recognize the risks climate change poses to their everyday lives and livelihoods and are beginning to respond.
“Climate-related risks will continue to grow without additional action,” the authors assert. “Decisions made today determine risk exposure for current and future generations and will either broaden or limit options to reduce the negative consequences of climate change.”
“The scientific community has spoken clearly and unequivocally that climate change is a present and growing danger to our nation, our economy and our way of life,” Washington Gov. Jay Inlsee said in response to the report. “Our president is adding to that threat by refusing to confront reality,” in response to the president’s continued insistence that the assessment from his own agencies is a hoax.
“The majority of Americans support climate action, and the majority of Americans will soon be represented by governors who are committed to combating climate change,” Inslee said.
Despite Inslee’s chipper assertions that states are stepping up to address a global transition to a carbon-free future, Washington voters signaled a different sort of ethos as they firmly rejected the state’s historic effort to price and reduce carbon emissions at the polls in November.
Public opinion polling on the eve of election showed a slight majority approved of Initiative 1631, a measure that would have required businesses to pay a fee for the carbon they emit. On election night, the measure failed in a 13-point loss.
“Over the years I’ve watched polling get sucked into this prediction business,” pollster Stuart Elway told the Seattle public media firm Crosscut, which sponsored the polls. “It was never designed to be.”
And yet, you’d expect polling to provide some measure of prediction of the actual values expressed by voters—otherwise, what is the point of them?
Crosscut performed an admirable post-election postmortem on their own polling and found some notable crosstabs.
“Even as a liberal policy measure, I-1631 did not consolidate enough of the liberal vote, securing 43 percent of the vote overall,” Crosscut reported. “Tellingly, it did not capture the electoral support won by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, who received about 59 percent of the statewide vote.
About one in four Cantwell voters did not support I-1631.
“Remarkably,” Crosscut found, “this vote gap can be observed in every single county,” with I-1631 underperforming by about 15 percentage points.
It’s a trend that held true in both Whatcom and Skagit counties, where Cantwell secured nearly 60 percent of the vote, yet I-1631 failed to gather commensurate support (the measure did pass in Bellingham precincts).
“Climate policy is not dead in the state of Washington. But as a policy instrument, the carbon tax does not enjoy the popular support required to pass on the ballot,” Crosscut analysts concluded. “Washingtonians have voted it down twice, as the conservative ‘revenue neutral’ Initiative 732 and as the liberal ‘revenue positive’ measure I-1631.”
Certainly there are other means to reduce carbon pollution, although few are as simple and elegant as voluntarily taxing ourselves as encouragement to pollute less. But equally certain, the failure of I-1631 sends a confusing message to Olympia, where a strengthened Democratic majority in both houses prepares to work with the governor on the issue next session.
But it is going to require more than lukewarm policy and uncertain support even among progressives to meet the challenges of climate change.
“While Americans are responding in ways that can bolster resilience and improve livelihoods,” the authors of the federal report suggest, “neither global efforts to mitigate the causes of climate change nor regional efforts to adapt to the impacts currently approach the scales needed to avoid substantial damages to the U.S. economy, environment, and human health and well-being over the coming decades.”
“The assumption that current and future climate conditions will resemble the recent past is no longer valid,” the report authors warn.
We’ve entered a brave new world—without the bravery.