President Obama had a realism moment last week when he responded, off-script, to a question posed to him at a meeting with the Business Roundtable in Washington. In response to a challenge to costly carbon-dioxide (CO2) regulation by Weyerhaeuser President Daniel Fulton, Obama opined:
I’m not somebody who — I’ve never bought into these Malthusian, woe, Chicken Little, the earth is falling — I tend to be pretty optimistic. I wouldn’t be here if I weren’t pretty optimistic. But I think this is–the science is overwhelming. This is a real problem. It will have severe economic consequences, as well as political and national security and environmental consequences.
Well, here is a little secret that should be brought out in the open. Most business executives following the climate-change debate believe that the climate alarm is exaggerated and is here-we-go-again Malthusianism. Obama sensed this and backed off from Malthusianism, as well as brought up the shaky subject of climate science. A psychologist would call this a double win for the “skeptics.” Indeed, if the science were really “overwhelming” in favor of a problem and a government solution, it would be recognized and agreed upon, and the president of all people would not need to state it.
Business leaders were suspicious about climate alarmism in the late 1990s*, and they are more suspicious after a decade of well-documented and well-publicized flat temperatures. Global warming has not accelerated as predicted by computer models but stalled.
* [I was close to the throne back at Enron, the favorite Clinton/Gore company on the issue of climate change, and no one at the company was losing sleep worrying about the future state of the climate. It was a business issue.]
Global warming is a political issue for business, not a scientific problem for society. Opinion polls suggest that the public is not buying the alarm either, despite a massive multi-billion-dollar alarmist campaign in the last 20 years by major private foundations, anti-capitalist intellectuals (including just about all of the physical-science professors at colleges and universities), business rent-seekers, and others.
It is time for business leaders, and leading groups such as the Roundtable, to go a step further than just question the need for and cost-effectiveness of pricing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. They should challenge policies that result in higher energy costs with virtually no effect on climate—in the name of corporate responsibility. The welfare of suppliers, employees, and consumers is that important.
As I stated in a 2000 essay, “Climate Alarmism and Corporate Responsibility”:
Voluntary actions by corporations should not go beyond innovative, win–win, “no regrets” initiatives. Greenhouse gas control practices that are uneconomic penalize either consumers or stockholders, while politicizing the issue of corporate responsibility. Few will be satisfied, and the ineffectual measures will eventually have to be abandoned.
– Robert L. Bradley Jr., “Climate Alarmism and Corporate Responsibility,” The Electricity Journal, Vol. 13, No. 7 (August/September 2000), pp. 65–71. Available here