Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Thursday, April 02, 2009

the challenge of climate change

Recently, the Cato Institute published an ad (pdf) in some of the United States' remaining newspapers, taking issue with President Obama on climate change.

The ad quotes Obama as saying, "Few challenges facing America and the world are more urgent than combating climate change. The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear."

This quote apparently came from a speech the then President Elect gave to the Governors' Global Climate Summit hosted by Arnold Swartzenegger last November.

The full text of the speech, and a YouTube video, can be found here.

The Cato ad does not pull any punches. The response begins:

With all due respect, Mr. President, that is not true.
We, the undersigned scientists, maintain that the case for alarm regarding climate change is grossly overstated.

…and continues with a rant about surface temperatures, property values, and computer models. I'm not going to discuss the Cato Institute's specific climate claims; I'm not a climate scientist. But the folks at the Real Climate blog are, and they have provided a point-by-point reply.

The thing is, the Cato Institute's criticisms in the ad had nothing to do with President Obama's actual speech. Here, in context, are his words:

Few challenges facing America and the world are more urgent than combating climate change. The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear. Sea levels are rising. Coastlines are shrinking. We’ve seen record drought, spreading famine, and storms that are growing stronger with each passing hurricane season.

Now that last phrase is not accurate. Maybe "each passing hurricane season" was meant as rhetorical flourish, but one thing it is not, is a statement of fact. In the past three years we have seen nothing to match the intensity of the hurricanes of 2005.

The rest of Obama's statement, however, is true. Sea levels are rising and coastlines are shrinking. We've seen record drought and spreading famine. And, as a general trend, hurricanes are growing stronger. The Cato ad did not dispute any of these facts.

Obama continues:

Climate change and our dependence on foreign oil, if left unaddressed, will continue to weaken our economy and threaten our national security.

This is taken from a report titled National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, and prepared for the U.S. Department of Defense by the CNA Corporation in 2007. Again, these facts are not disputed, even in the Cato ad.

And while the Cato ad states clearly that there's no reason for alarm, President Obama is not advocating alarm. Instead, he vows to provide leadership:

My presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process.

He then goes on to outline the basics of his plan. Now perhaps the Cato Institute would like to take issue with the specific solutions the President is proposing. But with this ad, they missed their opportunity. By focusing on disputes over computer models and property values, they have cut themselves out of the policy discussion. It's their choice, and it's their loss.



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