Climate Pragmatism


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Last week saw a return of Al Gore preaching the gospel of climate change.  Meanwhile, Michael Bloomberg gave $50 million to the Sierra Club to help fight for the closure of coal-fired power generation plants.  Then there was the release of a new paper called Climate Pragmatism produced by a diverse group of think tank types across the political spectrum urging both sides to shut up about global warming, climate crisis or the name du jour for issues surrounding emissions.

What is happening here?

The premise behind Climate Pragmatism is a belief that the histrionics about global warming and saving the planet have failed and the public is becoming increasingly skeptical of the messengers and thus tuning them out.

The authors of this white paper argue that the best way to constructively restart the conversation about the risks of climate change is to talk less about climate and more about symptoms such as air pollution that are tangible for people and then to push for clean energy solutions that pragmatically address the air pollution issue.

In essence the group is telling Al Gore to quit preaching to us because he is turning people off with his sermons as he makes millions from hedging and selling pollution credits.  This is not a surrender or admission that the global warming issue is dead, but it is a realistic assessment of the probability that preaching the same old gospel of climate crisis will produce the same failed result for the future.

Mayor Bloomberg’s $50 million is an example of pragmatic action that he hopes will produce pragmatic results—fewer coal plants thus cleaner air, fewer emissions and better public health.  Whether this approach is real climate pragmatism or just political pragmatism remains to be seen.

Climate Pragmatism is clearly is not the approach being taken by US EPA which is waging a virtual war against coal fired generation to advance its politically driven clean energy agenda.  But it risks discrediting much of the good work done in reducing air pollution by overzealous regulation the public sees as job killing more than clean air producing. A loss of public confidence from the belief that the government is pursuing a political agenda rather than pragmatic policies and regulations to reduce air pollution invites backlash which also fails to serve the public interest.

The real pragmatism is a recognition that global warming hardly registers in the public opinion surveys these days and that the real political strategy must shift from advancing the cause to defending the gains made to date while waiting for a better climate (pardon the pun) before starting a new battle.