About five years ago I began to argue that future historians would look back at the Kyoto Protocol period (from the mid-1990s to today) as the climate-policy equivalent of trying to fight inflation with wage and price controls in the 1970s: a hopeless approach based on an outdated framework. Winston Churchill's summary dismissal of disarmament negotiations in the 1930s--another instructive parallel--also fits: "a prolonged and solemn farce."
The root of the problem is the misconception of greenhouse gas emissions as a simple variation on traditional air pollution, to be addressed with the traditional regulatory framework. But, as Michael and Ted have observed, greenhouse gas emissions are to traditional air pollution what nuclear weapons are to street gangs--completely different in nature and scale. This observation needs to be taken to heart.
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With the collapse of cap-and-trade in Congress, it is no longer possible to avoid the inconvenient truth that serious carbon constraints are a non-starter. As a conservative critic of the environmental establishment, I'm tempted to kick its advocates when they're down. Oh, what the heck--I'll give in. The campaign to adopt carbon constraints has to be judged the least successful marketing effort since New Coke or the Edsel. This ought to provoke the most searching reflections within the environmental community, but so far it seems most environmentalists are stuck in the "denial" and "bargaining" phases of their grief over the death of cap-and-trade, grasping desperately to the hope that their Edsel of a policy can be revived after the next election. If the environmental establishment sticks with this vain hope, by "turning up the volume" as Michael and Ted put it, they will only marginalize themselves further. (The volume has been turned up to 11 for years, hasn't it?)