In a telling exchange with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, long-time polluter apologist Pat Michaels conceded that the real challenge of solving manmade global warming is simply the “political acceptability” of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels as climate catastrophes grow. Michaels, aptly introduced as “a scientist who now works for the Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank that strongly opposes caps to carbon dioxide,” has promoted global warming denial for decades, funded by a network of oil and coal companies and their ideological allies. With calm questioning, Zakaria exposed Michaels’ position as political “stand-pattism” as the world burns:
ZAKARIA: You hear all this. Doesn’t it worry you? I mean, I understand your position, which is you know, we don’t have a substitute for fossil fuels right now. But surely that isn’t an argument for stand-pattism. Don’t you want to do something about this?
MICHAELS: What I worry about more is the concept of opportunity cost. We had legislation, again, that went through the House last summer, which would have cost a lot and been futile. And when you take that away or when the government favors certain technologies and politicizes technologies, you’re doing worse than nothing. You’re actually impairing your ability to respond in the long run. And that’s my major concern along this issue —
ZAKARIA: But if you were to have a carbon tax, if you were to have a gas tax —
MICHAELS: You can put in the carbon tax.
ZAKARIA: No, but you would reduce the consumption — that which you tax you get less of. That which you subsidize you get more of. This is a pretty simple law of economics, right?
ZAKARIA: So if you were were to put it in, you would get reduced CO2 emissions and the government would get some money which you may not think it would spend wisely but it has the potential of spending wisely. Why would you be opposed to that?
MICHAELS: The problem is one of magnitude and political acceptability thereof. When we had gasoline of $4 a gallon, we reduced our consumption a grand total of four percent. If you’re really serious about atmospheric carbon dioxide, you’ve got to reduce it about 80 percent. How high does that tax have to be to be 80%? How do you do that in a political republic? It’s very, very difficult. And I guarantee you that —
ZAKARIA: But is the answer therefore to do nothing?
Zakaria also got Michaels to admit that about “40 percent” of his funding comes from the oil companies whose profits are based on free pollution.
Of course, there’s no secret about what kind of economic policy would be needed to end our dependence on fossil fuels over the coming decades. The rest of the industrialized world has policies that put a gradually increasing price on carbon pollution, redirecting investment in the free market to cleaner alternatives. Michaels’ claim that the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed by the House of Representatives last year “would have cost a lot and been futile” is, of course, false. The legislation would have improved the economic security of working families, reduced the deficit, and spurred billions of dollars of investment in clean American jobs instead of deadly oil and coal — while making an international agreement to limit global warming pollution a reality.
Michaels was interviewed this morning with climate scientist Gavin Schmidt and economist Jeffrey Sachs, who plainly described the “catastrophic planet” we are creating by burning billions of tons of fossil fuels every year. Schmidt remained “a little optimistic that the forces of delay will eventually be put aside” and that we can “demonstrate that societies are smarter than just allowing business as usual to carry on.” “If we do this sensibly,” Sachs said, “we can do this at low cost, save the planet, and save the economy.”
Sachs agreed with Michaels that the challenge requires political will. He concluded that is “what we hired the President of the United States for,” but that “we’re still waiting to hear from the administration”:
If we end up with a different planet where people cannot grow food, where people cannot eat given where they’re living right now, we have a catastrophe. And the ironic point is the combination of the technologies we have already in hand and those that are close on the horizon, if we do this sensibly, we can do this at low cost, save the planet, and save the economy. But we need a strategy and a plan. That’s what we hired the President of the United States for also. That’s what we’re still waiting to hear from the administration. If we get it, I bet the American people will rally to it.
It remains to be seen whether President Barack Obama will live up to this civilizational challenge, or if he will continue to let the Pat Michaels of the world rule the political discourse.
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