Progressives’ Reaction to China Deal Shows How to Solve the Climate Debate

Not surprisingly, progressives who have long favored a federal crackdown on U.S. carbon dioxide emissions jumped for joy over the announced deal between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping. They are arguing that this is a huge rhetorical blow to the critics of U.S. action. But as I’ll show, I can use their own arguments against them, to “prove” that we don’t need Uncle Sam involved in the climate debate at all.

To set the stage, let’s quote from two progressive advocates of aggressive U.S. action. Here’s Paul Krugman’s reaction to the U.S./China deal:

I wish that I believed that logic and reason played any role in the politics of climate change. Because if I did, the news of the US-China deal on carbon emissions would be a moment for sudden new optimism.

After all, one of the main arguments the usual suspects make against action…is that nothing the US does can matter, because China will just keep on emitting…

So you could say that a major prop of the anti-climate-action campaign has just been knocked away. But as I said, it probably won’t matter; they’ll just come up with another excuse.

Or consider James West at Mother Jones, who links to a YouTube video showing Republicans citing China as a reason to refrain from unilateral U.S. cuts. West then writes:

The shock announcement of an ambitious and wide-ranging climate deal between the United States and China is leaving one vociferous group of politicians red-faced: those that have always used China as an excuse for delaying climate action.

The announcement between the two biggest emitters deals a blow to the oft-stated rhetoric that the US must wait for China before bringing domestic climate legislation. And vice versa: China has long used US inaction as an excuse too.

Not anymore.

Believe it or not, this is actually great news. Now that I understand where people like Paul Krugman and the folks at Mother Jones are coming from, I can resolve the whole debate over climate change and State action quite easily.

As the above remarks make clear, Krugman and the other interventionists are perfectly content to take it as gospel that the Chinese will follow through on their non-binding promise to have their emissions peak in the year 2030. The agreement itself says, “China intends to achieve the peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030 and to make best efforts to peak early and intends to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20% by 2030” (emphasis added). In the meantime, of course, U.S. industry and consumers will get smacked with the immediate damage of U.S.-imposed limits on emissions.

Well if that’s how these cats roll, then here’s my proposal: Rather than having the U.S. government impose taxes or mandates, instead we’ll just get the verbal agreement from various power plant owners that they promise to switch to totally renewable energy sources by the year 2030. To quote the climate deal, let’s just get them to say that they “intend” to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. They don’t have to do anything in the meantime, showing their progress toward that goal; we just want their word. And if 2030 rolls around, with a different group of shareholders and CEOs running these companies, they can ignore the previous “intention” of somebody sixteen years earlier with no penalties whatsoever.

I think today’s private-sector executives would be willing to go on record with such a pledge, if it meant that Paul Krugman et al. would be satisfied that the global climate threat had been solved once and for all and thus would leave them alone.

Is that a deal, guys? I would hate to think you apply one set of standards when evaluating a pledge from the head of communist China, versus analogous pledges from U.S. business leaders.

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