THE BLOG
07/08/2013 01:50 pm ET Updated Sep 07, 2013

Krauthammer's Climate Crack-up

"The point of gasoline taxes is to reduce consumption/demand -- with all of the attendant beneficial side effects -- not to fund other projects, however lovely they sound. Once you break the discipline of having every penny of the tax go back to the taxpayer immediately through the payroll tax reduction, you've turned the gas tax into a slush fund where politicians pick winners and losers, play favorites and dole out patronage."


That was Charles Krauthammer in 2011, discussing his support for a "net-zero gas tax" with New York Times columnist Andrew Revkin. In a 2009 Weekly Standard piece making the case for a "net-zero gas tax," Krauthammer noted:

"High gas prices, whether achieved by market forces or by government imposition, encourage fuel economy. In the short term, they simply reduce the amount of driving. In the longer term, they lead to the increased (voluntary) shift to more fuel-efficient cars. They render redundant and unnecessary the absurd CAFE standards -- the ever-changing Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulations that mandate the fuel efficiency of various car and truck fleets -- which introduce terrible distortions into the market. As the consumer market adjusts itself to more fuel-efficient autos, the green car culture of the future that environmentalists are attempting to impose by decree begins to shape itself unmandated. This shift has the collateral environmental effect of reducing pollution and CO2 emissions, an important benefit for those who believe in man-made global warming and a painless bonus for agnostics (like me) who nonetheless believe that the endless pumping of CO2 into the atmosphere cannot be a good thing... If anthropogenic global warming is real, a reduction in driving and increase in fuel-efficiency is an unvarnished good. If anthropogenic global warming is as yet unproved, as I happen to believe, then the reduction in CO2 pumped into the atmosphere is a reasonable bet in conditions of uncertainty."


It's a bit curious that Krauthammer didn't reiterate these points in his July 5 Washington Post column denouncing President Obama's efforts to combat climate change. Krauthammer instead chose to insert a number of climate-denial crocks into his column, doing a disservice to his readers.

Krauthammer asserts:

"Global temperatures have been flat for 16 years -- a curious time to unveil a grand, hugely costly, socially disruptive anti-warming program.

Now, this inconvenient finding is not dispositive. It doesn't mean there is no global warming. But it is something that the very complex global warming models that Obama naively claims represent settled science have trouble explaining. It therefore highlights the president's presumption in dismissing skeptics as flat-earth know-nothings."

The assertion that global warming stopped in the 1990s is simply false. One wonders why Krauthammer chose to repeat this false assertion, when (as the acclaimed climate writer Peter Sinclair has noted) libertarian pundit/climatologist Patrick Michaels advised conservatives in 2008 to stop saying that global warming ceased in the 1990s.

Krauthammer summarily rejects the evidence that coal is among the biggest contributors to human-caused climate change, and instead accuses Obama of wanting to see "entire states impoverished... at a time of chronically and crushingly high unemployment, slow growth, jittery markets and deep economic uncertainty."

The assertion that President Obama actually wishes to inflict economic harm is self-refuting, so let's move on.

Krauthammer then resorts to a common rhetorical device of opponents of action on climate -- the assertion that India and China don't care about climate change, and therefore the United States shouldn't either:

"The have-nots are rapidly industrializing. As we speak, China and India together are opening one new coal plant every week. We can kill U.S. coal and devastate coal country all we want, but the industrializing Third World will more than make up for it. The net effect of the Obama plan will simply be dismantling the U.S. coal industry for shipping abroad.

To think we will get these countries to cooperate is sheer fantasy. We've been negotiating climate treaties for 20 years and gotten exactly nowhere. China, India and the other rising and modernizing countries point out that the West had a 150-year industrial head start that made it rich. They are still poor. And now, just as they are beginning to get rich, we're telling them to stop dead in their tracks?

Fat chance. Obama imagines he's going to cajole China into a greenhouse-gas emissions reduction that will slow its economy, increase energy costs, derail industrialization and risk enormous social unrest. This from a president who couldn't even get China to turn over one Edward Snowden to U.S. custody.

I'm not against a global pact to reduce CO2. Indeed, I favor it. But in the absence of one -- and there is no chance of getting one in the foreseeable future -- there is no point in America committing economic suicide to no effect on climate change, the reversing of which, after all, is the alleged point of the exercise."

Contrary to Krauthammer's suggestion, China is in fact taking steps to reduce its carbon emissions." In addition, Krauthammer appears to have ignored Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to work with India on the issue of carbon pollution. (By the way, since when does America wait for other countries to lead?)

Krauthammer is not, technically, a climate-change denier. Indeed, his subtle past acknowledgement that climate change might be a problem puts him ahead of conservative commentariat colleagues such as George Will. So it's hard to figure out why Krauthammer chose to fill his column with both climate distortions and unmitigated scorn for President Obama's actions.

Instead of denouncing Obama's vision on climate, why not put forward an alternate vision similar to the one recently promoted by Eli Lehrer in the Weekly Standard, a vision that eschews regulation in a favor of a revenue-neutral carbon tax similar to the "net-zero gas tax" Krauthammer himself once embraced? Conservative columnist Steve Chapman recently advocated this alternative vision. Krauthammer should use his platform to do the same. Why not do that? What's the worst that could happen? It's not like he'd lose his Fox News gig or anything.