Proponents of reducing greenhouse gas emissions view the upcoming climate change conference in Copenhagen as the point of no return. Gordon Brown has famously said that if an agreement is not made in December it will be “irretrievably too late, so we should never allow ourselves to lose sight of the catastrophe we face if present warming trends continue.” Similarly, COP15’s President, Connie Hedegaard, said that failure in Copenhagen is “not an option” and that the “the sooner we deal with the challenge of climate change, the smaller the risk of chaos and catastrophe.”
But people become increasingly less concerned about the issue. In a recent poll, Americans ranked the economy as the top priority while climate change ranks dead last. It is not just Americans who are showing a lack of concern; British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, has recently lamented that people worldwide are failing to understand the eminent global catastrophe:
“For too many people, not just in our own country but around the world, the penny hasn’t yet dropped … There isn’t yet that sense of urgency and drive and animation about the Copenhagen conference.”
The problem with painting doomsday scenarios is that one cannot claim that climate change legislation will prevent hurricanes or natural disasters; furthermore one cannot even claim that cap and trade policies will reduce world-wide emissions. According to Ben Lieberman, Senior Policy Analyst at the Heritage Foundation,
“Proponents of this cap-and-trade bill scare us with the usual gloom and doom litany: sea level rise, more storms, more disease. But even if one accepts that litany, how much of it will go away thanks to Waxman-Markey? Proponents of the bill never really address this question, and for good reason. Globally speaking, Waxman-Markey would have a trivial impact on future concentrations of greenhouse gases. The bill only binds the U.S., and the trends in the rest of the world show clearly that emissions are rising. China alone now out-emits the U.S., and it hasn’t just inched ahead, it has raced ahead with emissions rising six times faster than ours. A similar story is true of other rapidly developing nations.”
So climate change legislation will not reduce world-wide emissions—thereby doing nothing to prevent catastrophic weather conditions, but it is very clear that it will cause great economic havoc. In his speech to the UN on climate change, Obama was right to say that “our generation’s response to this challenge will be judged by history” but these polls show that more and more people are do not want their children to find themselves in an America with higher energy prices, higher taxes, and fewer jobs in return for policies that will do nothing to prevent changes in the climate. That could be the real catastrophe.