Requiem for a Climate Dream

By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.

If the world isn’t slashing CO2, blame overreaction to the Fukushima disaster.

Rigor could be restored to mainstream climate journalism with a single clause. That clause consists of the words “if climate models are accurate.”

A United Nations study issued in advance of this week’s climate summit in Madrid would appear in a different light, though still worrisome, and still a challenge to policy makers, if it were reported as saying: To avoid any chance of a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius, annual emissions cuts of 7.6% must begin next year if computerized climate simulations are correct.

Such simulations, we should admit, are science. Their findings represent a legitimate pursuit of knowledge. The common failing in the media involves leaving out the necessary caveats. Such carelessness has ultimately enabled a new kind of science denial on the left, where advocates like Greta Thunberg and the U.K. group Extinction Rebellion increasingly talk about climate change leading to a human demise that is nowhere supported in the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or other scientific bodies.

In my view, Al Gore bears heavy responsibility here. Name any important policy commitment in history—whether Social Security or Medicare or even fighting World War II—that required that all debate be silenced and all skeptics vilified before it could proceed. The Gore formula is good for stoking tribalism. It’s not good for making policy progress in a democracy. And so it has proved. Nobody remotely believes the supposedly necessary emissions cuts will take place. The only response left to the climate crowd is to ratchet up even more dire predictions.

Let’s start over. If stated properly, the “scientific consensus” would run as follows: climate models teach us to expect some warming from human-caused atmospheric CO2 increases, but disagree about how much. It’s hard to make cost-benefit judgments on such a basis, but happily the Green New Deal makes it easy—it would cost a lot of money and accomplish nothing since U.S. emissions are just 14% of the total and shrinking. India and China, not the U.S., will determine the fate of climate change.

Cost-benefit analysis also tells us a bunch of things that might be worth doing even in light of the uncertainties. A tax reform based on a revenue-neutral carbon tax could make our tax system more efficient and pro-growth. Government investment in basic research tends to have a high payoff, and battery research is a particularly attractive opportunity. Rethinking nuclear power and regulation is another area of huge potential. Safer and cheaper nuclear technologies continue to advance on the drawing board even in today’s inhospitable political environment.

And guess what? All the above would be easier to sell to other countries than Green New Deal masochism. Voters would readily gobble up new energy technologies and tax models that would make their societies richer and stronger.

In honor of this week’s global climate gathering in Madrid, the New York Times aptly refers to the “gap between reality and diplomacy.” International agreements, by their nature, are designed to put an imprimatur on what domestic politicians would do anyway, and that doesn’t include prematurely ending their careers by imposing on consumers the kind of crushing burdens the green left seeks.

Look elsewhere for the turning points that actually matter. If climate change proves as severe as some scientists believe, the most damning moment will be one that passed largely unremarked except in this column: the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown after Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Under Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany, the world’s sixth biggest emitter, chaotically and thoughtlessly announced within weeks that it would close all 17 of its nuclear plants. China and India, then pursuing ambitious nuclear expansions that should have become more ambitious, instead recommitted themselves to burning vast amounts of coal.

Nuclearphobes should remind themselves that more people die each year from coal-mining accidents than have been killed in all the nuclear accidents in history. Never mind the tens of thousands who are statistically estimated to die annually from inhaling particulates. No technology is perfect, but NASA’s James Hansen, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Gaia theorist James Lovelock, and the late Harvard economist Martin Weitzman are among the diverse and serious students of climate change who have said that meaningful cuts won’t happen without nuclear.

The Fukushima accident, widely misread and breathing new life into the antinuclear lobby, will prove more significant than even the advocacy errors of Al Gore. It will prove more significant than the Paris Agreement, the election of Donald Trump, the tiresome legal vendetta against Exxon, or any of the matters that obsess the climate left. It probably put paid to any hope that emissions cuts will play a role in climate change for at least the next three or four decades. Get used to it.

This article appeared on the Wall Street Journal website at https://www.wsj.com/articles/requiem-for-a-climate-dream-11575417278