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A call for pragmatic climate policy (Round II)

Climate_Pragmatism_Cover_Img-thumb-300x386.jpgShortly after the collapse of the climate talks in Copenhagen in December 2009, a group of academics put forth an alternative roadmap to kick-start meaningful action on global warming, one that would be “politically attractive and relentlessly pragmatic". Now some of those same academics – and a few new ones – have put out version 2.0, from an American perspective.

Dubbed “Climate Pragmatism: Innovation, Resilience and No Regrets”, the document is billed as an update of last year’s Hartwell paper, which followed a 2009 piece titled “”">How to get Climate Policy Back on Course" (see our initial coverage here). Indeed, the 14 authors strike many of the same chords, once again advocating for smaller steps that everybody can agree on rather than comprehensive political frameworks that try to solve all problems at once from on high.

“This new approach recognizes that continually deadlocked international negotiations and failed domestic policy proposals bring no climate benefit at all,” the document says. “It accepts that only sustained effort to build momentum through politically feasible forms of action will lead to accelerated decarbonization.”

The idea is that instead of trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (a nebulous and expensive idea whose benefit comes far into the future) we should clean up pollution from coal-fired power plants (which kills people every day). In doing so, we will make those plants more efficient or even close them down in favor of natural gas, thus reducing emissions. There is also broad support for energy innovation that will ultimately get people off of their current fossil fuel pathways and onto a more secure, sustainable and presumably cleaner energy future. Similarly, nobody is going to argue with the notion that people would be better off if they were better prepared for climate extremes (an idea that combines global development and adaptation).

These ideas have been floating around in various forms for a long time, and few would disagree with the general thrust of the report. Indeed, even the insulated world of climate negotiators took a step in their direction with the Copenhagen accord, which represented not a binding treaty like the Kyoto Protocol but a collection of national commitments that countries were already instituting at home. That approach was affirmed at last year’s talks in Cancun.

“At the same time, tackling climate through other guises may only get us so far,” says Elliot Diringer, who tracks international climate talks for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change in Arlington, Virginia. Some things – like carbon capture and sequestration – simply don’t make sense unless you believe in global warming, he points out. “In the long run you can’t address climate effectively unless you address it directly.”

David Victor, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, says the paper is generally correct but incomplete. While the authors talk about boosting spending from $3.5-$4 billion annually to $15 billion, for instance, Victor says they don’t explain how that money should be spent or coupled with possible taxes, fees and regulations. “What’s missing in the debate isn’t a supply of general ideas. We have those in spades,” says Victor, who recently penned a book on the subject. “What’s missing are practical visions for how they are put into place.”

For his part, Victor has looked at international trade negotiations as a model for understanding climate negotiations and argues among other things that smaller groups of countries – meeting in venues outside the formal climate negotiations – might be in a better position to push things forward.


  1. Report this comment

    Bob Ward said:

    This is a disappointingly shallow assessment of ‘Climate Pragmatism’. While the paper is a laudable attempt to build bipartisan US support for action on climate change, it suffers from two main failings. First, it ducks the need for an effective carbon price to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – the small carbon charge advocated by the authors would lead to high atmospheric concentrations with a big risk of global warming of 4 Centigrade degrees or more, and hence very severe impacts. Second, it avoids any discussion of what level of atmospheric concentrations or climate change impacts should be avoided. A more detailed critique is offered here:

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    Jon Mitchell, CPA (LMADster) said:

    While refreshing, this new “climate pragmatism” strategy is bound to fail.

    Here’s an example, “People support clean energy innovation, the report notes, for many reasons.” That’s 100% true but energy innovation includes “coal-to-gas” technology, exploiting offshore gas hydrates and yes, fracking.

    The premise of “climate pragmatism” is that ““Climate science is not going to bring us together.” That is also 100% true but actually there is no reason for a climate-change mitigating carbon tax can bring us together, which is the premise of the LMAD plan.

    The LMAD plan advocates a carbon tax, not to save the planet but to save the country. If that ends of saving the planet, the great!

    So how do we ideological opposites to come together on a carbon tax? Two rhetorical questions will do the trick:

    1) If the solution to too much CO2 in the air is to use less fossil fuels, why is NOT the solution to too much federal debt to use less government?

    2) If the optimal amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is 350 ppm (current=389 ppm) because that is the maximum concentration of CO2 that life as we know it can continue, why is 18% of GDP (current =25% GDP) NOT the optimal size of government because that is the size that most likely yields maximum economic growth (of 4.1% historically)?

    Think about it. Liberals (including Obama) and Conservatives are actually making the same apocalyptic argument albeit on different issues. They both make good arguments for action. But the public is yawningly uninterested in AGW and unwilling to make the hard choices on America’s fiscal problems. Buying off the opposition is the American way so why not use the system we have to get the outcome you want. And that’s what Let’s Make A Deal—The Plan is all about: getting the outcome you want.

    It’s time for progressives concerned about rising temperatures and conservatives concerned about rising federal debt to realize the obvious: they need to BUY each other off in order to effectively address their pet ideological concerns-there is no other way. This means trading, among other things, a carbon tax for a balanced budget amendment and a more limited government. This plan is outlined at

    LMAD is more than just a carbon tax: Healthcare-for-All? It’s in there. Balanced budget? It’s in there. Carbon tax? It’s in there. Rational taxation? Amnesty? Border Security? Limited government? Social Security and Medicare solvency? It’s all in there; it’s all paid for and it’s all scalable and optimized for economic growth.


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