For the first time since 1988, none of the presidential debates featured a discussion of global warming.
In 1986, the then-editor of The New Republic, Michael Kinsley, famously asked whether anyone could find a headline more boring than “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative,” which had recently appeared on the Times op-ed page. The jibe was really a backhanded compliment, of course—Canada’s virtue was so automatic it could just be assumed. It was big news in Canada when, in 2008, the country slipped from the top-ten list of the world’s most peaceful countries (all the way to eleventh). By this year, it was back in eighth, 74 places above the U.S. and, when liberals in the U.S.
Do we really need more sweeping scientific reports about global warming? At this point we've been deluged with studies and assessments and summaries and reviews, and anyone who's still deep in denial about the problem probably isn't going to be convinced by yet another fat volume of graphs and citations.
For most of the 2.5 million years that humans and their predecessors have been around, the Earth has been a volatile place. Subtle shifts in the planet’s orbit have triggered large temperature swings; glaciers have marched across North America and Europe and then retreated. But, about 10,000 years ago, something unusual happened: The Earth’s climate settled into a relatively stable state, global temperatures started hovering within a narrow band, and sea levels stopped rising and falling so drastically.
Of all the different industry groups scrambling to shape climate policy in Washington--from electric utilities to Detroit automakers--one stands out as a bit unexpected: Wall Street. Financial giants like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan have enlisted, all told, more than 100 lobbyists to roam the Capitol and influence the debate over how to curb greenhouse gases. There’s a reason for that: Any cap-and-trade bill that puts a limit on emissions and allows polluters to buy and sell permits will create a vast carbon market.
SOMETIME AFTER THE release of An Inconvenient Truth in 2006, environmentalism crossed from political movement to cultural moment. Fortune 500 companies pledged to go carbon neutral. Seemingly every magazine in the country, including Sports Illustrated, released a special green issue. Paris dimmed the lights on the Eiffel Tower. Solar investments became hot, even for oil companies. Evangelical ministers preached the gospel of “creation care.” Even archconservative Newt Gingrich published a book demanding action on global warming. Green had moved beyond politics.
How dire is the climate situation? Pretty dire, if you believe the ten leading climate scientists—including NASA's James Hansen—who just published an eye-popping article, "Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?" (pdf) in the Open Atmospheric Science Journal. It's a staggering report, and worth discussing at length. At the moment, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are hovering around 385 parts per million (and growing at 2 ppm per year).
A few days ago, a bunch of conservative bloggers had themselves a little uproar. Noel Sheppard wrote, "[A] government agency is actually participating in a fraud against the American people." Fraud! The culprit, it seems, was James Hansen, head of NASA's Goddard Institute. "[L]eftist hero James Hansen is behind this deliberate fraud," wrote The Ace. "He should be frog-marched out of his office." A different blogger, Ace of Spades, agreed: "Fire him.