Liberal, Libertarian Clash Over Obama's Climate Change Push

Thursday, 28 Aug 2014 06:22 PM

By Sean Piccoli

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President Barack Obama's intent to go it alone on global warming is either a welcome response to an obstructive, broken Congress or a lawless use of executive power that also ignores climate science, according to a pair of clashing commentators who appeared on Newsmax TV Thursday.

Patrick J. Michaels, director of the Center for the Study of Science at the libertarian Cato Institute, told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner that Obama's plan to forge his own multi-national pact on greenhouse gas emissions is a "breathtaking" power grab that "flies in the face of the Constitution."

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"We're a government of laws, and if we're going to have international agreements on climate change, they have to be ratified by the Senate," Michaels said.

Josh Orton, senior adviser for the liberal Progressives United PAC, said that while it's "unfortunate" the president is working around Congress — "It's certainly not my ideal; I'm nearly positive it's not the president's," said Orton — he's been left with no choice.

"These things have to happen now," Orton said, meaning the United States must embrace caps on industrial carbon-dioxide output blamed for a hotter planet.

Orton said that "as we've already seen from the insurance industries and from the Pentagon itself, global climate change has been accepted as a tremendous risk that needs action.

"I agree that in the end this is going to be a conversation about the Senate and why it can't get anything done," Orton said. "And it won't surprise you to find out that I actually blame [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell and the Republicans for having taken what I believe is a sacred and important institution in our democracy, and essentially shut it down for purely political purposes."

The White House has said its proposed agreement wouldn't need Senate approval because it would be "politically binding," not legally binding, and backed up with "name and shame" enforcement against holdout countries instead of fixed penalties.

Orton argued that Obama's motivation for seeking a climate change pact without Congress' consent is based on science and national security, not politics, because global warming is not an issue that drives voters to the polls.

But Michaels said that in pushing a climate-change agenda, Obama is playing "a little bit fast and loose with the facts."

"All scientists know that it's warmer than it was 100 years ago and that people have something to do with it," Michaels said. "That's not the issue. The issue is how much will it warm in the future. And the fact that we haven't seen any significant surface warming … tells me that the sensitivity of temperature to carbon dioxide was overestimated.

"We have been jimmying these computer models for three decades now to try and get them to accommodate the fact that the warming is beneath the rates that [climate scientists] have been predicting," he said. "We're just going to have to admit that the sensitivity of temperature to carbon dioxide is not as high as we thought it was.

"We have to reduce the [warming] forecast," said Michaels, "and when the forecast comes down, the urgency for serious or very strong policy interventions is weakened dramatically."

It's also a blow to scientists who have come to depend on dire climate predictions to get their research funded, he said.

"We're destroying science with the incentive structure" in which "the only way you keep the money flowing is to say, 'Oh, my God, the world is coming to an end.' Well, guess what? It's not," Michaels said.

"I realize that's going to put a few people out of business," he said. "I realize that scientists are going to have to go back to flying in coach. Too bad, but that's just the way it is."

Orton countered that opponents of climate-change treaties and legislation are moving the goal posts.

"A few years ago, we heard from climate deniers that there was actually no warming, that people had actually nothing to do with it," he said.

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The line today, he said, is, "Well, OK, humankind may have had something to do with the warming, but it isn't warm enough to actually do something."

"In the end," said Orton, "the people who don't want to do anything about climate change just don't want to do anything about climate change because it will cost them money."

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