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How the Climate Campaign Plans to Get Its Groove Back

Day after day comes more news of the gradual collapse of the climate campaign.  Between the embarrassing lack of continued warming and the reckoning with the unsustainably (heh) high cost of renewable energy to displace hydrocarbon energy, you can hear politicians slowly backing away from the whole scene, especially over in Europe.  Yesterday, for example, Tim Yeo, one of the leading advocates of climate action in the UK, took a major step in his walkback, as reported in The Telegraph: “The chairman of the Commons Energy and Climate Change committee said he accepts the earth’s temperature is increasing but said ‘natural phases’ may be to blame.”

The biggest problem for the climate campaign from the beginning was the incommensurable distance between the problem and the remedy: to stop catastrophic global warming, we were told, essentially requires phasing out almost all hydrocarbon energy by the year 2050.  The actual greenhouse gas emissions target of climate orthodoxy is an 80 percent reduction by the year 2050, though Al Gore says we need to reduce by 90 percent.  Whatever.  I calculated that this would require the United States to return to a level of hydrocarbon energy use it last experienced in the year 1910, or, on a per capita basis, to total emissions last seen around 1875.  There are a few countries with per capita emissions that low today, such as Haiti and Somalia.

This was never going to happen.  The substitute for hydrocarbon energy are neither affordable nor scalable to our needs on that time scale (or probably any foreseeable time scale).  And it was only a matter of time before even the most dense politicians figured this out.

However, the news that warming has slowed and that climate sensitivity may be lower than previously estimated may ironically provide a new lease on life for the climate campaign.  Instead of saying, as James Hansen, Al Gore, and others have for many years, that we have less than a decade left to “save” the planet, the new refrain is already coming into focus: We have a second chance!  The reprieve means we should double-down on our efforts to suppress hydrocarbon energy.  For example, Michael Marshall argued in The New Scientist a few days ago:

Humanity has a second chance to stop dangerous climate change. Temperature data from the last decade offers an unexpected opportunity to stay below the agreed international target of 2 °C of global warming.

A new analysis took temperature rise in the most recent decades, and worked out what this means for the coming ones. It suggests that Earth will warm more slowly over this century than we thought it would, buying us a little more time to cut our greenhouse gas emissions and prevent dangerous climate change.

Look for this to be the headline of the next IPCC report, due out in September.  The report will walk back previous estimates of climate sensitivity, but will affirm that we’re still doomed unless we go ahead with the previous program of handing over power to bureaucrats to control our energy supply.  You read it here on Power Line first.

The interesting part will be to see whether climate orthodoxy proposes a new, and theoretically more plausible, GHG emissions reduction target and timetable, like a 50 percent cut by the year 2060.  I doubt it.  Hatred of “fossil fuels” is the categorical imperative of modern environmentalism, and it long predates the arrival of global warming as an issue.  The original complaint was that that hydrocarbons produced too much conventional air pollution, but once we solved that problem global warming became the fallback position.  Nothing will deter environmentalists from this wisp—certainly not facts or progress.  I’m betting they’ll stick with the previous 80 by 50 target.  But if they come in with a different one, I’ll do the math to figure out what year in the past it will take the U.S. back to: I’ll bet it will still be something like 1925.  Stay tuned.

P.S.  See also Ron Bailey’s typically excellent roundup on this subject.

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