The economy stagnates. Syria burns. Scandals lap at his feet. China and Russia mock him, even as a "29-year-old hacker" revealed his nation's spy secrets to the world. How does President Barack Obama respond? With a grandiloquent speech on climate change.
Climate change? It lies at the very bottom of a list of Americans' concerns (last of 21 — Pew poll). Which means that Obama's declaration of unilateral American war on global warming, whatever the cost — and it will be heavy — is either highly visionary or hopelessly solipsistic. You decide: Global temperatures have been flat for 16 years — a curious time to unveil a grand, hugely costly, socially disruptive anti-warming program.
Now, this inconvenient finding is not dispositive. It doesn't mean there is no global warming. But it is something that the very complex global warming models that Obama naively claims represent settled science have trouble explaining. It therefore highlights the president's presumption in dismissing skeptics as flat-earth know-nothings.
On the contrary. It's flat-earthers like Obama who refuse to acknowledge the problematic nature of contradictory data. It's flat-earthers like Obama who cite a recent Alaskan heat wave — a freak event in one place at one time — as presumptive evidence of planetary climate change. It's flat-earthers like Obama who cite perennial phenomenon such as droughts as cosmic retribution for environmental sinfulness.
For the sake of argument, nonetheless, let's concede that global warming is precisely what Obama thinks it is. Then answer this: What in God's name is his massive new regulatory and spending program — which begins with a war on coal and ends with billions in more subsidies for new Solyndras — going to do about it? The U.S. has already radically cut CO2 emissions — more than any country on earth since 2006, according to the International Energy Agency. Emissions today are back down to 1992 levels.
And yet, at the same time, global emissions have gone up. That's because — surprise! — we don't control the energy use of the other 96 percent of humankind.
At the heart of Obama's program are EPA regulations that will make it impossible to open any new coal plant and will systematically shut down existing plants. "Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they're having a war on coal," explained one of Obama's climate advisers. "On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what's needed." Net effect: tens of thousands of jobs killed, entire states impoverished. This at a time of chronically and crushingly high unemployment, slow growth, jittery markets and deep economic uncertainty.
But that's not the worst of it. This massive self-sacrifice might be worthwhile if it did actually stop global warming and save the planet. What makes the whole idea nuts is that it won't. This massive self-inflicted economic wound will have no effect on climate change.
The have-nots are rapidly industrializing. As we speak, China and India together are opening one new coal plant every week. We can kill U.S. coal and devastate coal country all we want, but the industrializing Third World will more than make up for it. The net effect of the Obama plan will simply be dismantling the U.S. coal industry for shipping abroad.
To think we will get these countries to cooperate is sheer fantasy. We've been negotiating climate treaties for 20 years and gotten exactly nowhere. China, India and the other rising and modernizing countries point out that the West had a 150-year industrial head start that made it rich. They are still poor. And now, just as they are beginning to get rich, we're telling them to stop dead in their tracks? Fat chance.