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Why is the Party in Power So Fearful of Copenhagen? (Is a ‘death spiral’ for climate alarmism ahead?)

By Kenneth P. Green -- September 1, 2009

[Editor note: Ken Green was a Working Group 1 expert reviewer for the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2001]

For weeks now, we’ve been hearing an odd refrain from the Democrats who are pushing hardest for the Waxman-Markey climate bill. They are determined, it seems, not only to have such a bill drawn up before Copenhagen, but to have it signed into law. At the same time, the EPA is widely expected to issue its endangerment finding for greenhouse gases, triggering what will undoubtedly be a hotly disputed regulatory process.

President Obama, it is reported, wants to sign climate legislation before the critically important Copenhagen climate conference in December. And Senate Majority leader Harry Reid wants the President to sign a climate bill this fall as well.

They both have plenty of company in the “act first, think later” brigade.

A New York Times article shows the sense of urgency:

“I think we’re still a ways away from a final agreement which will lead to a bill,” Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.) said during an Aug. 11 teleconference with United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard. “But we have, I believe, at least on the Democratic side, a significant consensus on the urgency of — the need for a climate change bill — the urgency to get it done this year, as well as, I think, a good bit of consensus, even region to region, that the House was able to work out accommodating a lot of different interests in their bill.”

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, another Democrat seen as instrumental in moving the climate bill, said he planned to back Reid and President Obama in advancing the cap-and-trade bill.

At an Aug. 14 conference in Pittsburgh, Specter said he generally would support cloture — or cutting off a Republican-led filibuster — on everything from climate to labor and health care bills.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told Bloomberg Television on Aug. 10 that the U.N. climate conference was one driver for fall or winter action on the climate bill.

“The president has urged us to do this so that we’ll have credibility at Copenhagen,” Durbin said.”

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack, and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke are also on board. As Reuters reports,

“The United States needs to set a very firm and clear example if we are to be successful in getting the other countries to be equally aggressive in addressing climate change,” Locke said.

Vilsack warned against delays for the climate bill.

“How are we going to be able to move other nations in the same direction we want to move on trade issues or on fighting extremists if we can’t deliver on climate change, when the rest of the world is moving forward?” he asked.

What’s fascinating here is the implication of this rush to get legislation signed into law before Copenhagen. Normally, when one is going into negotiations, one wants to have some leverage to use to gain cooperation and compromise from other parties. Thus, one could see the Democrats wanting legislation passed through the Congress, but UNSIGNED by the President, as a negotiating lever for the Copenhagen talks. Similarly, one could see the President telling his EPA administrator to hold off on their endangerment finding, again, to create leverage in Copenhagen. Alternately, if the Senate held off on passing a bill, the Obama negotiating team in Copenhagen could play “good cop/bad cop,” with the House acting as “good cop,” having passed legislation, while the Senate, which has previously derailed climate policy acting as “bad cop,” waiting to see what China and India do.

But instead, the Obama Administration and their Congressional supporters are hell bent in pre-emptive capitulation at Copenhagen, going into negotiations having completely stripped themselves of leverage by having set either a legislative or regulatory process (or both) in motion that, under the U.S. legal system, is likely to be irreversible.

The only way to make sense of the Democratic strategy is to suppose that the Democrats believe that Copenhagen will fail, that China and India will not sign onto meaningful emission-reduction efforts, and that in the post-Copenhagen environment that would ensue, it would be more difficult – if not impossible – to pass a cap-and-trade scheme at all.

Try to imagine a “post-Kyoto world” without a replacement for the (failed) Kyoto Protocol:

  1. Neither the public nor the Senate will buy unilateral U.S. action to reduce greenhouse emissions, meaning that the prospects of cap-and-trade in 2010 and beyond grow very dim;
  2. As hopes for a Gore-style “wrenching transformation” fade, more mainstream scientists and opinion-makers will become more “practical” toward the issue, meaning that alarmism may give way to sensible assessments of mitigation, adaptation, and geo-engineering; and
  3. Exploding emissions from China and India will make developed world emissions less and less important, a fact that will become relevant in future domestic efforts to impose curbs on greenhouse gas emissions.

The end might be in sight for the mighty effort of the environmental left to put a cap on capitalism by capping carbon. What will this mean for the Malthusian worldview? We can only wait and see.

ADDENDUM (9/1/09)
Joe Romm, at Climate Progress, not surprisingly disagrees with my thinking that we’ll have a bill signed by December. According to Joe,

“Now it is officially impossible to imagine a Senate vote before November. And I’d say it’s now at most 50-50 the vote isn’t until December or January, which would put a final bill, conferenced and passed again by both House and Senate, on Obama’s desk maybe in March.”

On the other hand, he seems to agree that holding off on signing such an agreement would help lever China into accepting binding emission-reduction plans, writing:

“Now I’m told by a non-government source who spends a lot of time talking to the Chinese about climate and clean energy that China is prepared to make such an announcement, but probably not until Obama visits the country after the APEC meeting in mid-November. If this is true, then administration and Senate leaders should delayed a final Senate vote until after that.” And

“I see little point in a final Senate vote before China spells out at least some of what it is planning to do.”

While Joe has some valid points in his post, I still think this could play out either way. As Joe and I agree, there’s only one shot at this. The question is, does that shot have to be taken before Copenhagen, or can it be taken afterward?


  1. Richard W. Fulmer  

    I don’t believe that the Administration’s sense of urgency is driven by Copenhagen. Copenhagen simply gives them another argument for swift passage of a bill – any bill. Instead, I think that they need to act quickly before:
    (a) Obama loses any more popular support
    (b) Additional data comes in confirming the fact that global
    temperatures have stopped rising
    (c) People have time to review the bill and the facts

    We know that the bill is not about reducing global warming since even its supporters admit that it will have a negligible impact. We know that it’s not about raising money since the government is giving away most of the emissions rights. The most likely motive is to shift power to Washington – which is in line with the direction of the Administration’s other actions. Their strategy of moving quickly, attempting to curtail debate, and vilifying the opposition is also consistent with their actions in pushing for the stimulus package and for national health care. I think the goal in each of these cases has been/is to get something – anything – passed in order to get the federal foot in the door.


  2. Charles Battig  

    “Good Cop vs. Bad Cop Game Plan ”

    Charles G. Battig,MS,MD
    Charlottesville, VA

    The hapless public is witnessing the playing out of a classic “good cop” vs. “bad cop” energy drama. The “good cop” is the Obama Administration and its Congressional supporters of a tax-and-charade (cap-and-trade) make-energy-more-expensive scheme. The “bad cop” is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has managed to define the natural, trace gas, carbon dioxide as a legal “pollutant.” This bad cop threatens to come knocking at doors of all types throughout the land in enforcement of ill-defined new limits on emitters of a gas necessary to the life cycle off most all life, plant and animal. Humans emit about 800 pounds a year in the life sustaining process of food metabolism. Plant life needs it to live and thereby produce the oxygen we need.
    The bad cop EPA threatens total bureaucratic control of carbon emissions at every level of U.S. economic activity, unencumbered by legislative oversight. Some might call that totalitarian.
    To the rescue, comes the “good cop” in the form of the Obama Congressional leaders, such as Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey, offering the totally sweet deal of tax-and-trade. How can one refuse?
    In this process, little is mentioned as to why either choice is necessary. An enlightened Congress could revisit the Clean Air Act and correct the language which was used by the Supreme Court to make a legal, but not scientific, ruling.
    Will any of this affect the much proclaimed climate crisis? Four independent authoritative global temperature monitoring centers (the Haley Centre, the U.S. National Climatic Data Center, Remote Sensing Systems, and the University of Alabama at Huntsville) all confirm a definite, significant, and continuing global cooling for the past six plus years.
    Other actions by the Obama administration in the automobile industry, banking sector, health care, and even in the federalization of formerly voluntary public service all show the intrusive hand of government in attempting to exert near total control of large segments of our economy.
    If all these totals are totaled up, is the sum not approaching totalitarianism, or at least as the old saying goes: “(totally) close enough for government work”?


  3. abetterenergyplan.  

    i think the chines e have been hinting at reducing Co2 emissions all summer, but obviously their suggestions have been quite lower than everyone is expecting. I think Romm has a good idea. Don’t put anything down till Obama can get some one on one and get a clear idea of what the Chinese intend to do.


  4. Steve Martin  

    All of this wouldn’t have had to happen if the weather would just have cooperated and actually gotten warmer as it was supposed to do.

    Everyone I know is remarking on what a cool Summer it has been. And the recorded temps prove that things are cooling off.

    Maybe that’s why the powers that be changed it from “global warming” to “climate change”.

    Since the climate always changes, it seems you can’t go wrong with that one.


  5. Travis Monitor  

    “(a) Obama loses any more popular support
    (b) Additional data comes in confirming the fact that global
    temperatures have stopped rising
    (c) People have time to review the bill and the facts”


    The liberals want to regulate. They dont care what the Chinese will do, they dont care that the regulations dont work. They apparently dont even notice that the models are not matching temp data lately. Dont care. This is a rush to legislate for the sake of getting a chokehold on the energy industry before the “opportunity” is lost. Once you have that power and control, you can figure out how to get the most contributions, what you want to do regulation-wise, etc.

    The Obama/Democrat agenda is about taking control NOW, dammit, with extreme legislation before they lose that super-majority and they are forced to actually play nice and win broad consensus on their bills (which will never exist in favor of cap&trade taxes and regulation).


  6. Travis Monitor  

    “The hapless public is witnessing the playing out of a classic “good cop” vs. “bad cop” energy drama. The “good cop” is the Obama Administration and its Congressional supporters of a tax-and-charade (cap-and-trade) make-energy-more-expensive scheme. The “bad cop” is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has managed to define the natural, trace gas, carbon dioxide as a legal “pollutant.””

    Nah, more like 2 gang members taking turns at a ‘wilding’ initiation.


  7. Bob R Geologist  

    To almost any geologist, who by training and experience has a better understanding of how our world operates, than all the lawyer / politicians, put together. And that includes that idiot Al Gore’s infantile alarmism. The above drivel about politics and meetings about controlling the weather by controlling a vital gas in our atmosphere is naive beyond belief. CEI has recently reported on the results of 20 years and $30 billion of our Gov’t funded scintific research on CO2’s role in weather control that found not a scrap of “empirical evidence” that man-made CO2 had a significant effect on global climates. That should render moot further plans for carbon control. What is obvious to me is that weather is a geologic process, far beyond man’s puny prowess. We should be studying how to improve man’s adaptability to changing climates. A uniform, sustainable climate, exists only in the fevered brain of inadequately educated, fanatic environmentalists.


  8. Larry Hoffmann  

    With no scientific evidence that CO2 causes global warming, with costs for Cap and Trade approaching the trillions of dollars, with no measurable impact of Cap and Trade on global tenperatures with adverse impact of our quality of life, it appears that we must again follow the money. Somebody is hoping to reap some heavy dividends using alarmism as a tactic.


  9. Marlo Lewis  

    Insightful column, Ken. Robert, I think the blather about passing Waxman-Markey to be credible at Copenhagen is more than just another talking point to sell a bad bill. If Congress says no to cap-and-trade this year, then the Euros may have to go it alone under Kyoto II as they did under Kyoto I. The EU picked the 1990 baseline for Kyoto in hopes of gaining competitive advantage vis-a-vis U.S. industry. Instead, because Bush said no, Kyoto became a gun aimed solely at their own feet. Moreover, if the United States again rejects cap-and-trade, there’s no prospect of roping in China and India. There is only so long European industry will put up with a treaty that tilts global trade in favor of the United States, China, and India. If Waxman-Markey fails, the Kyoto process is in deep trouble. I do believe the Obama folks worry about this.


  10. Climate Alarmism on the Hot Seat: Eric Berger, Houston Chronicle Science Writer, Wants to Know What’s Up — MasterResource  

    […] his post at MasterResource last week, Ken Green spoke of a potential “death spiral” for climate […]


  11. Cooler Heads Digest 3 September 2009 | GlobalWarming.org  

    […] Is a ‘Death Spiral’ for Climate Alarmism Ahead? Kenneth Green, MasterResource.org, 1 September 2009 […]


  12. Carbonicus  

    Thanks for a great article.

    It is only a matter of time until enough of the the public gets enough exposure to the Mann incident, the IPCC makeup, political, and peer-review process, continually-evolving science showing that CO2 isn’t the driver for warming, the lessons that geology, anthropology, paleoclimatology, and other sciences teach us about the variability of the earth’s climate over millenia, credible cost/benefit analyses of what we get for these policies (e.g., as Chip Knappenberger pointed out using the MAGIC-C model, about 1/10 of a degree Celsius by the year 2100 at an ANNUAL cost of 1-4% of GDP), etc. and the walls propping up this political science hoax will come crashing down. Thanks to the work of Master Resource and many others, this is already occurring. One of the benefits of the internet is that the state teat-sucking mainstream media isn’t the only group putting out information.

    And regarding the fate of the Wacky Marxism American Carbon Elimination and Serfdom Act, don’t let your guard down and get complacent. The same machine that would have happily rammed through healthcare ruination in 2 months tried to do the same thing with Wacky Marxism. It was only upon seeing the wrath of the people raining down on House members who voted for the bill that the Senate put the brakes on the debate and vote in the Senate. And EPA has sent their “Endangerment Finding” to the administration, so the administration isn’t making an about face just yet, but will use the sword of damacles of the “Finding” to continue to push for Wacky Marxism.

    But alas, let us not forget that the last time the Senate voted on binding CO2 legislation:

    a) they voted 97-0….and there were NOT 97 Republicans in the room;
    b) there now exists REAMS of science countering the anthropogenic GW catastrophe hoax that didn’t exist then, nor did we have the Mann and many other episodes of scientific fraud and/or plain error which more than cast doubt on the AGW hypothesis.

    Keep up the pressure. This game ain’t over. America can’t afford to lose this battle, unless you want America to become, as Anadarko’s CEO put it, “the cleanest 3rd world country in the world”.


  13. Bob R Geologist  

    I can hardly express my delight in seeing a return to sanity regarding the absurd climate fiasco (AGW) that literally shook the world of science. I still cannot believe the number of academic geologists that were lured into supporting this terribly flawed hypothesis by the prospect of lush research grants to prove its validity. I can only blame the political pressure of fanatic environmentalism on our Government to fund this futile effort to the tune of over $30 billion. An action I hope our voting public will long remember the misguided political party still pushing Waxman / Markey, ostensively to cure a now proven mythical disease.


  14. Bill  

    Anyone who thinks China, or any other developing country, will agree to cut CO2 emissions would probably believe in the Tooth Fairy. The developing world will do nothing until their GDP per capita approachs the West – which means 30years at the earliest.
    Even if the West cuts emissions it will only be slightly. Overall CO2 emissions will just keep rising – fortunately it has only a slight effect on the climate and that is becoming more and more evident.


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