Who knew that civil rights started with an "S" as in Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall? In case you missed it Monday, President Obama laid out an ambitious agenda as he began his second term and delivered his second inaugural address. Besides mentioning these turning points in the nation's march to equality, he also carried the torch for a strong response to climate change. The President did not mince words:
We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.
Critics will immediately and correctly point out that there is no evidence that climate change caused a specific wildfire or hurricane. (We are not so sure droughts cannot be attributed.)
But the critics don’t get a free pass either. This is from the editorial page of Monday’s on-line Wall Street Journal:
One of his most passionate moments was even devoted to addressing “climate change,” of all things. He rarely mentioned the subject in the election campaign. But doing something about global warming is a commandment in the modern liberal catechism, and now Mr. Obama says it will be a major priority in the next four years. He even used the stock liberal description that those who disagree with him on climate change “deny” scientific fact. It’s another example of deliberately stigmatizing his opposition.
By our dictionary, a “modern liberal catechism” would entail a set of questions and answers; hence, referring to commandments seems to be mixing Mosaic and Jesuitical metaphors. And castigating Mr. Obama for stigmatizing his opposition, is "the pot calling the kettle black" when the editorial spits out “liberal” as if it is a synonym for “demonic.”
But we try to avoid getting embroiled in the politics of climate change and seek to stay focused on the facts. Here is the catechism we use in assessing climate change: How do we know climate change exists? Follow the money.
We gave a talk last week, Climate Change: Uncovering Risks in a Warming World. To introduce the subject and demonstrate it is real, and that it is now, we gave two examples. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, last November a Russian LNG tanker made the trip from Norway to Japan for the first time using the Northern Sea Route, that is, across the Arctic Ocean north of Russia. An LNG tanker costs in the vicinity of $200 million, which apparently the ship’s owner and its insurers felt safe in risking. They are not alone, traffic along the Northern Sea Route has risen steadily in the past few years. Why? Money. The estimated savings in sailing the much shorter route could be $3 million. The other example concerned winegrowing. Denmark, to our amazement, makes a world-class sparkling wine. How can this be? Wine-growing regions are migrating. According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, current winegrowing regions will shrink by 80% by 2100; the UN estimates viticulture will migrate north by over 100 miles as certain areas become too hot and too dry. So what are viticulturists doing? They are buying properties further north, on north-facing slopes and at higher altitudes. Again, people are making investment decisions based on the changing climate. Is climate change real? Follow the money.
Which takes us back to the contents of the second inaugural address, or, rather, what was not in the contents. There was no thoughtful alliteration of turning points in the nation’s march to mitigating and adapting to climate change for the simple reason that Copenhagen, Cancun and Qatar haven’t turned us at all. If the President is going to deliver on his promise, he is going to have to change that.