The "Climate is Gone"

11/05/2010 03:19 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Words of truth from Karl Rove as he interpreted the impact of Tuesday's Republican victory for shale-gas executives: the "Climate is gone." He meant climate legislation. In reality, however, the electoral victory merely sealed the already determined fate of climate policy in this country. With the rise of Tea Party thinking, "climate science skepticism" has become full-fledged "climate science hostility" and a litmus test for future Republican platforms.

I shouldn't be surprised - my doctoral dissertation was entitled "Carbon Lock-in" - but it was hard to finally give up the hope that the U.S. might do something sensible about climate change. The Obama Administration will soldier on trying to regulate CO2 through the Environmental Protection Agency, but the EPA's mandate stops at the U.S. border which is even more pervious to air than illegal immigrants. Climate is a global challenge and if the U.S. doesn't lead, or at least follow, effective global action is implausible.

In the U.S., climate policy will move to the states - Californian voters rejected Proposition 23 which sought to roll back the state's ambitious climate and clean energy initiatives - but local action will create a messy patchwork of policies that will frustrate the corporate Vice Presidents of Environment, Health & Safety across the country. More importantly companies will also find public activists pressuring them for more proactive "beyond compliance" actions to reduce their carbon footprint. Greater scrutiny of their climate lobbying activities is also in the cards.

The election results put any action on climate a decade out or more. This means in 2020 carbon dioxide concentrations will likely be in the mid 400s (ppm). But more importantly, the completion of expensive fossil fuel-based capital equipment and infrastructure - like coal-fired power plants and super highways in China and India - will make the political and economic calculus of carbon reductions even more problematic than today.

Environmentalists tend to dislike discussions about "adaptation" because it takes attention away from doing something about the problem now. But given the political reality, it is time for humanity to start thinking seriously about how we will cope with a climate very different than the one we became top-dog in. Conservative leaders appear to be more willing to accept the fact that the world is warming when it is seen as a "natural" shift and not a manmade one. That may be the only opening for a realistic post-November 2 climate discussion we have. After all, even Karl Rove says that the climate is gone.