Going Cheney on climate
Last week, Thomas Friedman’s Tuesday column in the New York Times began like this:
In 2006, Ron Suskind published “The One Percent Doctrine,” a book about the U.S. war on terrorists after 9/11. The title was drawn from an assessment by then-Vice President Dick Cheney, who, in the face of concerns that a Pakistani scientist was offering nuclear-weapons expertise to Al Qaeda, reportedly declared: “If there’s a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping Al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.” Cheney contended that the U.S. had to confront a very new type of threat: a “low-probability, high-impact event.”
And, yet, some conservatives want to hold off on any costly action with respect to climate change, saying that the science is not settled (never mind the fact that it is, in fact, largely settled). Even places like Lloyd’s of London — not exactly a bastion of Greenpeace radicals — says that the risk of environmental disasters is increasing due to climate change. So then, doesn’t it make sense to change our behavior in order to avert a “low-probability, high-impact event”? The worst-case scenario here is pretty bad: global planetary extinction. A more moderate projection is a major adjustment to population patterns, with millions with deaths. Or, perhaps we’re all wrong about this, and the recent trends in climate or a blip.
Using Dick Cheney’s own logic (God help me), we must conclude that it makes sense to take immediate action to prevent a major threat from materializing, even in the absence of certainty. I suspect that nearly every reader of this blog is a voter, somewhere or other. Tell your elected officials that you want immediate action and you’re willing to (a) pay for it and (b) make changes in your life.
President Obama will doubtless trumpet grand plans of the US while the Copenhagen conference is going on. These plans will include things like targeted reductions by, say, 2020. The problem is that most of these plans will have NO IMMEDIATE IMPACT. Plans that begin NOW are considered too politically costly. But there are, of course, options.
For example, we could increase the tax on automobile and airplane fuel by a dollar a gallon, right now. That tax could be used to invest in infrastructure (roads & rail), which will give the economy a boost. Some of the money could be used for assistance to those who are temporarily unemployed as the economy shifts. And some of the money could be used for environmental measures to reduce global warming. This kind of tax would create negative incentives to use environmentally costly forms of transport, while creating improvements to environmentally friendly forms of transport. Oh, and there would be less traffic and other benefits.
No doubt my kneejerk idea is deeply flawed, but I’m sure we could come up with workable plans that have immediate results. That’s what we need, not more hot air (the talking kind and the climate-changing kind). Some will say our fragile economy can’t afford these kinds of plans. I respond by reminding people firs that our fragile island home — our very planet — is in danger. Second, we started a trillion dollar war based on idle speculation. I’m sure our basis for combating climate change is much more solid that was our basis for invading Iraq.
Since most Americans vote only from the perspective of their wallet, our politicians need contact with people who can see the big picture, people who realize that penny wise can be planet foolish. Email! Call!