You know, I’m getting a little tired of every do-nothing climate agreement being hailed as having saved the planet. This weekend, the media exploded about a “breakthrough” climate agreement signed in Paris; one that is going to “save the Earth” from global warming (as always, remember what George Carlin said about “saving the Earth”). You can read a good breakdown from Ronald Bailey but a good summation could me given by Michael Corleone.
The offer is nothing.
The nations have agreed, in principle, to massively cut global emissions with the goal of going carbon free later in the century. They’ve also agreed, in principle, to provide some assistance to countries negatively impacted by the effects of global warming. It goes into effect if enough nations sign on and will review those goals every five years.
But there’s no enforcement mechanism. There’s nothing binding. The deal is so flimsy that Obama’s not even going to bother sending it to Congress because it doesn’t agree to anything they need to act on (and because Congress would probably overwhelmingly reject it the same way they overwhelmingly rejected Kyoto). It’s a slightly fancier piece of paper and that’s all.
Even if the goals were enacted, the reduction in projected global warming is small, maybe one degree if the countries do everything they say they are going to do. That’s actually less than the reduction in projected global warming that’s resulted from better science: improved models and better analysis of temperature trends that have dropped the projected global warming in this century by several degrees.
If you judge an agreement by its goals — which seems to be the only way the Left ever judges anything — the Paris Agreement is fantastic. But if you judge it by what it actually does, the Paris Agreement is nothing. All it really does is emphasize the dirty little secret of the global warming debate: We don’t have a solution to the problem of global warming.
Oh, there are things we can do to buy time. Better energy efficiency. Using alternative energy as practicable, especially nuclear. Cutting down on industrial methane emissions. Switching to less carbon-intense fuels, like natural gas. Making our energy grid more efficient and responsive. These can slow the process of global warming, possibly for decades. I’ve written previously on how to buy time on global warming without wrecking the economy here and here.
— brad plumer (@bradplumer) December 12, 2015
But the simple fact is that we will not solve this problem until we have an energy source that is as reliable, as efficient, as portable and as powerful as fossil fuels. That might be a more advanced nuclear fission. It might be nuclear fusion. It might be sunlight captured in space and beamed down the Earth. It might be efficient energy storage (and no, filling a warehouse with lithium batteries is not efficient energy storage). But we are at least a couple of decades away from being able to go “carbon free”.
When that technology is developed, we won’t need grand international agreements to force everyone to use it. The market will eat that right up. And that brings us to the final dirty secret of global warming: these meetings and these treaties aren’t about saving the Earth. They’re about consolidating power. They’re about lavishing money on special interests. They’re about, for many counties, wealth transfers from rich countries to poor ones (a major sticking point in the negotiations was just how much rich countries should “compensate” poor countries for environmental damage; most environmental damage right now is caused by … poor countries). They’re about having fancy expensive meetings in exotic locales where were world leaders can set nobel goals decades away that they will never have to worry about. They then pat themselves on the back and bask in the worship of the media and environmentalists despite having accomplished fuck all.