The Washington Post this morning has a strong story on the collapse of the movement to stop climate change through a binding treaty negotiated under UN auspices. And even the normally taciturn New York Times is admitting that the resignation of the top UN climate change negotiator suggests that no global treaty will be coming this year.
Short summary: the current iteration of the movement–with its particular political project and goals–is dead. This will not be news to readers of this blog where the news was announced on February 1, but never mind.
Anyway, as the Post now belatedly acknowledges, the movement to stop climate change through a Really Big and Comprehensive Grand Global Treaty is dead because there is no political consensus in the US to go forward. It’s dead because the UN process is toppling over from its own excessive ambition and complexity. It’s dead because China and India are having second thoughts about even the smallish steps they put on the table back in Copenhagen.
As the Post story shows, the mainstream media is now coming to terms with the death. Environmentalists are still trying to avoid pulling the plug, but the corpse is already cool to the touch and soon it will begin to smell. As the global greens move from the denial stage of the grief process, brace yourself for some eloquent, petulant and arrogant rage. Tears will be shed and hands will be wrung. The world is stupid, uncaring, unworthy to be saved. Horrible Republicans, evil Chinese, demented know-nothing climate skeptics have ruined the world and condemned our grandchildren to lives of sorrow and pain. Messengers will be shot; skeptics will be blamed for asking questions and the media (and the internet) will be blamed for reporting the answers.
This storm will have to blow for a while; there’s a lot of emotion and conviction in the ‘climate change’ community. A year ago they were the last, best hope of the world, a shining band of brothers (and sisters) who were saving the planet and taming the excesses of self-destructive capitalist greed. The Force was with them and the world lay at their feet. They were going to be greeted as liberators by a grateful world desperate to be saved.
Now they are just another piece of roadkill on the heartless historical highway–an unforgiving place for people who seek to change the behavior of the world through comprehensive treaties, like the nuclear freeze proponents before them and like the advocates of the Grand Global Treaty Against War in the 1920s. (And at least the 1920s peace movement got its Grand Global Treaty: the 1929 Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawed war forever, sparing all future generations from this terrible scourge.)
The climate change movement now needs to regroup, and at some point it will have to confront a central, unpalatable fact: the wounds from which it is bleeding so profusely are mostly its own fault. This phase of the climate change movement was immature, unrealistic and naive. It was poorly organized and foolishly led. It adopted an unrealistic and unreachable political goal, and sought to stampede world opinion through misleading and exaggerated statements. It lacked the most elementary level of political realism–all the more egregious given the movement’s politically sophisticated and very rich opponents. Foundation staff, activists and sympathetic journalists cocooned themselves in an echo chamber of comfortable group-think, and as they toasted one another in green Kool-Aid they thought they were making progress when actually they were slowly and painfully digging themselves into an ever-deeper hole.
The service the movement now needs (but likely won’t get) from its close friends in the mainstream media is a harsh and unsparing review of exactly who screwed up and why. What dodo-brained foundation executives streamed money to groups committed to a suicidally unrealistic political strategy? Have they been fired yet? Why not? Who were the ignorant, self-righteous ‘leaders’ who shouted down anybody with doubts about this disastrous course? Why haven’t they resigned yet? When will they? Whose brainchild was the brilliant idea that the IPCC didn’t need a full time chair? What hare-brained funders failed to provide Phil Jones and the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia with enough clerical help to comply with the freedom of information act? And why was there no one available to counsel Jones when, apparently, he realized that some of the requests couldn’t be satisfied because key data was lost? How did the climate of carelessness at the IPCC develop — and why were warning voices from inside the movement ignored in the rush to get all the alarming but unverified predictions into print?
Failure to deal sternly and coldly with those who made these errors will leave the same incompetents in charge for the next stage of the movement. This will probably happen; social promotion is something liberals do very well and the blame for this mess is so widespread that few of the movement’s leaders will want any uncomfortable questions to be asked.
Frankly, I blame Al Gore. Unlike naive scientists who know little about life beyond the lab, or eco-activists whose concepts of the international political system come from writing direct-mail solicitations to true believers in rich countries, the former vice-president had decades of experience with high politics. It was his job to provide the leadership that could channel the energy and concern of this movement into an effective political program. Perhaps there’s a story we don’t know yet about how Mr. Gore labored quietly and in vain for many years to explain to his fellow global greens about the difficulties and intricacies of the political process. Perhaps he reminded them that it takes 67 votes in the US Senate to ratify a treaty, and that the ideas of the Kyoto Protocol were preemptively rejected 95-0–such a thorough beating that the Protocol itself was never even submitted to the Senate while he was in office. Perhaps he tried to explain to them that a global movement for a treaty was setting itself up for a colossal and comprehensive failure and begged them to take a more realistic course. Perhaps he urged them to be their own harshest critics and to make sure that any information and projections that came out the movement and institutions like the IPCC should be scrubbed cleaner than clean. Perhaps he begged them to make sure that the IPCC was staffed and led by competent, thoroughly vetted and full-time people whose tempered judgment could lead the institution through the inevitable storms it would face.
That could have happened, but I don’t think it did. I think Al Gore failed the climate change movement and that his negligence and blindness has done it irreparable harm. If the skeptics are right and the world isn’t warming — or if natural causes are responsible for climate change – it doesn’t matter much. But if Al Gore and the climate change people are even half right about what is happening to our world, the cost of Mr. Gore’s failures are incalculably great. He was the one world leader who had the standing inside the climate change movement to lead it onto a more sustainable path and, as far as we can tell from the facts now before us, he didn’t really try.
Ultimately, the most telling argument against global warming is the lack of seriousness with which the greens themselves have approached the issue. Getting the world to make the kind of changes greens want is a much more complex and serious endeavor than they themselves seem to have understood. As my colleague Michael Levi says in the Post, “It is becoming increasingly clear that a legally binding treaty is not in the cards…People aren’t quite sure what direction they’re going in at all.”
The greens claim to understand the dynamics of complex ecosystems better than the rest of humanity; the simplistic assumptions and unrealistic strategies with which they’ve approached the complex ecosystem of international politics don’t provide the dispassionate observer with much evidence in support of this claim.