Yesterday, the conservative-leaning magazine National Review ran a story praising 2016 GOP Candidate Carly Fiorina for showing them “how to address the left on climate change”. The author David French’s argument lays out three points of “contention” for climate change action:
- Whether humans have any impact (spoiler alert: we do)
- Whether humans are the main cause (spoiler alert: we are)
- Whether countries will be able to do anything acting alone
French argues that the GOP is spending far too much time debating the first and second points, when debating the third could go so much further because there is a less pronounced consensus on that issue. He lauds Fiorina’s answer to Katie Couric that “a single nation acting alone can make no difference at all” when it comes to combating climate change.
It’s true that to solve the problem, there needs to be a multi-lateral solution, but French and Fiorina are both letting perfect be the enemy of good: there is no magic bullet that is going to solve the problem, so let’s not even try (some call this the “Nirvana fallacy“). French cites the gigantic sources of emissions from China and India, dismissively saying that the left expects our climate change action to make the countries “have their own ‘come to Jesus’ movement in defiance of national interest and centuries of national political culture.”
He raises an interesting point: why wouldn’t China and India take advantage of our “constricted” economy, mired by red tape and environmental regulations, to overtake us economically? Well, first, because like us they are complex people, driven by more than one single-minded goal of global domination (despite what some may say). They have ethics, compassion, and a desire to preserve their environment, just like us.
In fact, let’s see who the real problem is when it comes to willingness to act on climate change. Take a look at the following graphics from the Guardian’s analysis of a Pew poll from last month, which asked citizens of 40 countries whether they were “seriously concerned” about a set of big issues facing the world today. First, let’s see what’s bothering China and India:
The graphics paint a clear picture of where the two major emitters stand on the issue: Chinese respondents were most concerned about climate change, though their results were fairly close across the different threats. India, on the other hand, far and away sees climate change as the most serious problem, leading the next-most serious by nearly 30 percentage points. Now, consider the same results for the United States, who French claims is ready to “fall on our own sword” to address climate change:
Clearly, the problem of climate change is not a major priority for our country: climate change is almost dead last, coming in at just more threatening than China’s territorial disputes. Climate change takes the backseat to ISIS, the Iran deal and nuclear program, our tensions with Russia, and Global economic instability. I would think that if we are the climate martyrs that French says we are, that countries who view climate change as the most pressing threat would happily go further than we have to stop it.
Fortunately, I don’t need to base my argument on conjecture: in the months leading up to the COP21 conference in Paris this November (and following President Obama’s climate summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping last November) , China has set several ambitious climate goals. The Chinese aim to peak carbon emissions by 2030 or sooner, increase alternative energy to at least 1/5 of the energy market by 2030 (ours is at 13%), and to reduce carbon emissions by 40 to 45 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.
Recent plans out of India also show that they are willing to act to stop climate change. While emissions reductions are not as prominent as in China’s plans, the Indian government commits to reforestation of 800,000 hectares of forest per year (this will mitigate about 11% of their emissions), and also pledges to install 20 GW of solar capacity by 2020 and 200 GW by 2050 (about 10 times where the US is now). It could use some beefing up, but neither of these countries are showing signs of opportunism in the wake of American climate change goals.
I’d say that we need to spend less time worrying about what China and India will do, and start increasing our efforts to address this problem. The Indians and Chinese have shown that they want to follow our example. So, to Mr. French and Mrs. Fiorina I say: nice try, but you’re not stopping progress.