Two important voices that Revkin pointed out (while noting that “both will probably be unhappy” he’d put them in the same sentence) are Climate Progress’s Joe Romm and the Breakthrough Institute. These two think tanks typify the debate on the left—they agree on the need to address global warming (and that doing so need not wreck the economy), but clash angrily over the best approach.
Romm recently lashed out against two Breakthrough Institute analyses that criticized the Waxman-Markey climate bill. One, published at the group’s blog, argued that the offsets contained therein would allow “business as usual” growth in U.S. emission until 2030. The other, published at the online magazine Yale Environment 360 (e360), argued that making carbon emissions expensive is not as important as direct investment in making clean energy cheap and widely available. Both are perspectives worth considering, despite Romm’s pompous dictate that journalists should ignore them.
The essay in e360, by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, is especially worthwhile because it attempts to end a debate that has now gone on ad nauseum—that is, whether a cap-and-trade scheme or a carbon tax is a better mechanism for pricing emissions. Anybody who looks will find reams of material on the advantages and disadvantages of each, but Nordhaus and Shellenberger make a powerful case that this is a “false debate” because “no society has been willing establish high carbon prices, regardless of the mechanism.”
Indeed, with voices at The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post still making eleventh-hour calls for a carbon tax, pundits might consider spending their time on the details of the legislation at hand rather than swapping it out for something else.
Of course, that’s not what Nordhaus and Shellenberger do. They still don’t support the Waxman-Markey bill, arguing instead that: “environmentalists must shift from looking to high carbon prices to drive private sector energy innovation to using low carbon prices to fund public sector research, development, and deployment of clean energy technologies.” That’s not a totally unreasonable argument, but it does have a disappointing “aim-low!” tenor about it.
Despite his unwarranted attempt to shut Nordhaus and Shellenberger out of the debate, Romm still has the upper hand in his support for making the most out of Waxman-Markey. “Many people have asked me how I can reconcile my climate science realism, which demands far stronger action than the Waxman-Markey bill requires, and my climate politics realism, which has led me to strongly advocate passage of this flawed bill,” Romm wrote at Climate Progess. “The short answer is that Waxman-Markey is the only game in town.”
That position puts Romm in line with columnists like Paul Krugman, who made one of the most cogent and influential arguments anywhere in the media that, “The legislation now on the table isn’t the bill we’d ideally want, but it’s the bill we can get — and it’s vastly better than no bill at all.”
The New York Times, which publishes Krugman’s columns, made a similar argument in an editorial. So did the The Washington Post (sort of), the Boston Globe, the Houston Chronicle, the Waco Tribune, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Salt Lake Tribune, and the Toledo Blade in Ohio (not to mention a column there by Tom Henry, who looks at the bill from a wonderful Great-Lakes point of view).
These editorials are incredibly valuable to readers trying to make sense of the myriad voices ringing out on the news pages. Unfortunately, it seems that only a handful of papers have weighed in. More should, especially as the debate (and lobbying efforts) surrounding Waxman-Markey intensifies as the bill moves toward the House floor and then, potentially, on to the Senate.