So here we have them: Obama’s three - Chu, John Holdren, and Jane Lubchenco. All with sterling credentials - a Nobel laureate in physics, a recent president of the AAAS, a recent head of the International Council of Scientific Unions - but with minimal knowledge of climate science, except what they may have gleaned from reading the IPCC summary. Yet all three seem supremely confident that they will drastically change US climate policy. Well, let me be the first with the bad (for them) news: Within a year or so, they are going to be an awfully frustrated bunch.
My fearless forecast for 2009: Big amount of activity by Congress, with lots of ‘Cap&Trade’ bills to limit CO2 emissions. Waxman, Markey, and Pelosi in the House; Boxer, Lieberman, Bingeman, and maybe even McCain in the Senate. It will take off, but it won't fly: There is the prohibitive cost of any real C&T, raising energy prices and killing jobs—while the economy is in the dumps. There is the horrible example of the European emission-trading brouhaha, falling apart even as we go to press. And after ten years, the climate is still refusing to warm. I am not even considering the threat of a filibuster in the Senate-with Democrats from ‘fly-over’ states joining Republican opponents of Cap&Trade.
I think that Obama is much too smart to devote political capital to doomed climate legislation. He has more important priorities, and must also be thinking of 2010 and, of course, the 2012 elections. Being a ‘one-term’ president just doesn’t look good. He will certainly go through the motions and come up with great rhetoric. He’ll trot out his science team - but to no avail. Climate science isn’t going to figure prominently in the Congressional debates - alas; it’s all about economics and politics.
Now for the real action: Once legislation stalls, Carol Browner, the supreme ideologue and strategist, will go the regulatory route. EPA will try to treat CO2 as a ‘criteria pollutant’ under the terms of the Clean Air Act. But there will be litigation. EPA must demonstrate ‘endangerment’ and make a persuasive case that CO2 is a threat to ‘public health and welfare.’ Perhaps even show that there is a critical level of CO2 and demonstrate convincingly - in a court-of-law—that its regulatory program will succeed in keeping CO2 from reaching that level. EPA will be required to respond to all the scientific evidence now in its docket that says CO2 is not a threat - including the NIPCC report. Here is where climate science will finally become all-important - but Obama’s science team will be of no help once cross-examination starts.
How much better if the three team members lay off climate and devote their efforts and expertise to genuine problems: Holdren can handle nuclear proliferation and the rising threat of nuclear terrorism; Lubchenco can try to stem the over-exploitation of ocean resources, and look after fisheries and whales; Chu should be thinking about the inevitable transition from fossil fuels to various forms of nuclear energy and foster research that assures adequate and low-cost supplies of fissionable fuel for the more efficient and safer reactors of the future.
While this may be best use of their considerable collective talents, they will probably be pressed into service to back up Browner on her dubious climate science —where they have negligible expertise.
(see more at icecap.us)