When environmentalism was young in the mid-20th Century there was ample reason to be concerned about the the state of the environment in much of the world. In the US there was very little concern about pollution prior to about 1970. This all changed, however, in the 1970s and 1980s and strict pollution laws were enacted and environmental agencies were created at both the Federal and state levels. The country’s water and particularly its air were cleaned up greatly. In subsequent decades, however, the expectations of the environmental movement increased even more and what had been a bi-partisan effort to improve the environment gradually became a far left wing cause supported primarily by the far left of the Democratic Party.
At the same time the environmental movement gradually adopted a goal of greatly reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, a very minor atmospheric gas absolutely essential to photosynthesis in plants and thus one of the basic building blocks of life on planet Earth. In the early days of this campaign the alleged goal was to prevent alleged global warming, which had thankfully been going on since the end of the Little Ice Age in the 19th Century.
Mother nature, however, had other ideas and decided after a very strong “Super El Nino” at the end of the 1990s to hold global temperatures steady for at least 17 years so far and some say 18.5 years. For this or other reasons the leaders of the movement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions have changed their objective to preventing climate change. But there was very little climate change either. So in the last few years they have changed the goal still again to preventing extreme weather events. But the alleged means to achieve these goals has always remained the same–drastic reductions in CO2 emissions. It is highly unlikely, however, that US reductions in CO2 emissions would have any measurable effects on any of these three goals.
The Great Unsolved Problem of the Climate Movement
The great unsolved problem of the climate movement has been that most of the increase in CO2 emissions in recent years has not come from the US (where they have decreased) or other developed countries but rather from the less developed countries, particularly China and India. In order to achieve the economic development these countries so strongly desire, it is essential that they substitute fossil fuel energy for human effort in order to improve productivity. They are therefore opposed to reducing CO2 emissions, which would prevent them from developing as rapidly as they otherwise would.
Some developed countries (including the US) have proposed to reduce developed country opposition to CO2 emission reductions through large government payments to the less developed countries through the United Nations. Major such payments are quite unlikely given the opposition of most developed country taxpayers to paying for them, particularly at a time of a lingering Great Recession. The environmental movement and the Obama Administration claim that this underlying problem of less developed country opposition will somehow be overcome at a meeting in Paris in December, 2015 if only the US makes major reductions in CO2 emissions from power plants that will have no measurable effects on atmospheric CO2 levels. Such reductions will result in significant increases in payments by ratepayers (which would impact primarily the less wealthy) and reductions in the reliability of the electricity grid in the US, as they already have in Western Europe; taxpayers would also be on the hook for the large payments to the UN for the less developed countries. All this appears to me to be highly unlikely and counter-productive. But it will happen unless the Obama Administration is stopped by Congress or the courts in pursuing their climate fantasy.
This is one of many problems discussed in my new book, Environmentalism Gone Mad, which can be obtained through the book website.