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Lindsey Graham's calculated nonsense


If you want to feel really pessimistic about the politics of climate change, head over to Kate Sheppard's place, where you can read Lindsey Graham trying to find a rhetorical bridge between questioning global warming and supporting efforts to reduce carbon emissions. What he comes up with sounds a lot like nonsense. But then, that's as good an approach as any when you're reasoning with an irrational position.

Back when I interviewed Graham, he was trying out some of the same rhetoric, and I walked away pretty depressed. It seemed to me that Lindsey Graham 1) believed in climate change and believed that it was a problem, as that was the only explanation for the time he'd sunk into the issue, and 2) believed that the Republican base's antipathy towards Al Gore and environmentalists had become so overwhelming that the only way to convince them to cap carbon emissions would be to persuade them that doing so had nothing to do with atmospheric temperatures. And I really have no reason to think that Graham is wrong on that, or that I know grass-roots Republicans better than he does.

A lot of liberals think they're going to win this argument by convincing everyone that global warming is real. Graham seems to think your best shot is dispensing with the need to convince anyone that global warming is real. He might be right, but that best shot is a long shot, and that means the likeliest outcome is failure.

Photo credit: By Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

By Ezra Klein  |  June 10, 2010; 11:08 AM ET
Categories:  Climate Change  
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Is it such a long shot? I always thought of global warming as related to high blood pressure. It's hard for people to take seriously since you don't have acute effects. But selling carbon control as a way to combat smoggy air might be more sellable. Instead of polar bears on icecaps, you can have the imagery of a polluted Los Angeles or Houston. You can show actual Americans stricken with severe pulmonary diseases. This is a lot more concrete than global warming. As catastrophic as five degrees of increased global temperature is, you think public opinion will shift on what amounts to a warm day?

Posted by: DDAWD | June 10, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Republicans with hidden environmental sympathies could make a lot of hay with this oil spill:
"Big oil is threatening our pristine beaches, the air we breathe and our very livelihood! Obama might not have the guts to stand up to these polluters, but WE DO! Let me tell you about a talk I had with Joe the Fisherman..."

Posted by: trevindor | June 10, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

As I recall from the interview, Graham also had talked with young people who, he believed, did see climate change as a problem, and he believed that the GOP was risking alienating younger voters long term by not taking climate change seriously.

It is kind of like their attitude towards gay rights, immigration and other issues. Maybe we just need to do what we can and wait until a few more of these dinosaurs die off. When the temp in Phoenix reaches 120 with regularity in the summer, and John McCain is gone, maybe there can be some movement. A few more oil spills and hurricanes will shift opinion in the Southeast. And tornadoes in Oklahoma.

I realize that many people think that in 10 years we will have passed the tipping point and it will be too late, but by then the Europeans will have developed fusion and the Chinese will have made great strides in renewables. We can piggyback on them in our twilight years.

Posted by: Mimikatz | June 10, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

The economic models that consider uncertainty all indicate that we should put a price a carbon. This is true even if the models assume that scientists are substantially over-estimating the risks.

These models are quite reliable and similar models are even used by Exxon to make business decisons involving uncertainty regarding the running of its oil fields.

Posted by: TCS3 | June 10, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

The economic models that consider uncertainty all indicate that we should put a price a carbon. This is true even if the models assume that scientists are substantially over-estimating the risks.

These models are quite reliable and similar models are even used by Exxon to make business decisons involving uncertainty regarding the running of its oil fields.

Posted by: TCS3 | June 10, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Today's Post-ABC poll says 55% of Republican voters think the fed government should regulate global warming emissions. Why no Republican elected willing to speak for these people?

Posted by: dahawk7843 | June 10, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

I don't think it's that much of a long shot position. Even coming from NYC to Maryland (maybe not Baltimore) or Virginia you notice how much cleaner the air is. It's a much easier sell in China too, where the health problems are real and the smog is thick.

It's very hard to base a policy this expensive on a trend that isn't causing us any significant problems today, has many possible solutions, and is just not perceptible to a lot of people. However, this government literally owns the auto companies and the unions, so if we can't get higher emissions standards for vehicles passed now, we never will.

I am also VERY suspicious of the Enron style cap and trade nonsense. It is going to have some unintended consequences and enforcing the regulation is going to very difficult. Measuring emissions is hard. Do cows count?

Raise the gas/carbon fuel tax now and get it over with. No extra bureaucracy, no garbagey scams to hand out money to companies, nothing. Just raise the tax (and hopefully the resale value on my non-recalled Prius)

Posted by: staticvars | June 10, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Pre-Three Mile Island, nuclear energy was the green alternative to fossil fuels. Twenty years have passed and nuclear generating plants remain the only viable alternative to coal-burning plants for large-scale production of electricity.

Those who believe in antropogenic global climate change -- the global warming and global cooling pseudo-scientists -- divert attention from the indisputable fact that coal and oil and natural gas and even uranium are finite resources.

It seems far easier to focus on fact (finite resources) than on theory (climate change), yet the facts remain obscured by an angry green mob spouting data which it does not understand. In short, the fact that there will ultimately be no more oil solves any purported oil-induced climate change problem but does not solve the underlying lack-of-oil and lack-of-energy problem.

Posted by: rmgregory | June 10, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

I simply cannot imagine Americans (or anyone) will be willing to sacrifice to the degree necessary to prevent global warming. We need to get much closer to disaster before we'll change. OK - so what's wrong with that? It's not like it will happen in my lifetime.

If our current prosperity and comfort is unsustainable, then it is certainly not reasonable to think we can lift the billions in China, India, and Africa out of poverty and up to a US standard of living without running out of resources or polluting the environment. We can either reduce our standard of living and share or hoard resources until they run out. These are the choices we face. What do you think we'll do?

Posted by: Neal3 | June 11, 2010 4:20 AM | Report abuse

Well the good news is that renewables have gotten big enough to have their own energy-lobbying clout. I really doubt we'll stop seeing subsidies for research and deployment of these sources. And Republicans love nukes, so that even with Dem losses you'll probably still see a shift to non-emitting sources.

Frankly, after watching the process of the the stimulus & healthcare bill I'm not sure that I actually want to see the Senate take up climate change. I just can't believe a body whose swing members almost all come from coal & farm states will write a bill that actually achieves emission reductions. I don't even want to think about what the out-of-nowhere crazy lie on the scale of "death panels" will be here. Or what the "Stupak" ounce of flesh will look like. Or how Ben Nelson will do his usual "This looks nice but lets strip out all the important parts for pork!" move.

The Dems' strategy here should be to quietly shore up the EPA's tailoring rule & amend its New Source Review program to prevent old plants from constantly escaping review. We have perfectly fine clean air regulatory authority now, there's no reason to reinvent the wheel. Especially when the people who would be tasked with reinventing it are so obviously incompetent.

Posted by: NS12345 | June 11, 2010 9:18 AM | Report abuse

The only thing the EPA is tailoring is the Emperor's New Clothes.

Posted by: ecocampaigner | June 14, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

As most thinking human beings, Graham has realized that "man-made global warming" is a SCAM that Obama and his comrades have been planning to use to increase their wealth and power at the expense of the American people, mostly middle class and poor Americans.

There's NO global warming. Even the hoaxers changed "global warming" to "climate change" when they realized the earth is actually cooling.

Obama and his comrades obviously don’t believe their ludicrous man-made global warming fairy tales. They are ready to let companies emit CO2 as long as they pay! And Gore bought an 8-million mansion on a BEACH as he was trying to convince us that the oceans would take over beaches…

Those brainwashed to the point of wanting to destroy the economy to "prevent global warming" are behaving like the most primitive human beings who were duped into believing that human sacrifices would ensure them good weather. Human beings don't have the power to control climate! And killing the economy will not help the environment. Poor countries can't protect the environment. Just look at Haiti!

Posted by: AntonioSosa | June 14, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

What is beyond revolting is that, while we are facing the oil spill crisis, Obama and his comrades are busy using the crisis to push their cap and trade/carbon tax SCAM down our throats!

Rather than finding ways to solve the oil spill horrendous problems, they are busy finding ways to use the problems and the suffering to advance their SCAM!

Posted by: AntonioSosa | June 14, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

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