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08.04.10

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Krugman for Beginners

A Krug-guide to who and what has cooked our planet

By Juliane Poirier


For the convenience of my readers, I'm providing today a condensed version of something shrewd by Paul Krugman, a journalist who writes for the New York Times. Full disclosure? OK. I have a major case of hero worship for Krugman, who boldly tackles issues with such robust courage, intelligence, wit and clarity that I must honor by passing along, to PK fans and neophytes alike, his gem on global warming politics. Here are the key points of Krugman's dead-on zinger published July 25, "Who Cooked the Planet?"

To start, let me translate from Krugmanese that he is merely being ironic when he attributes to sadistic Olympian gods the hot weather the East Coast has had so far in 2010. He does not really expect us to laugh here. In fact, the columnist explains that this stretch we're in, the "hottest such stretch on record," is actually a result of a failure to act, aided by a shameful attribute. We'll get to that in a minute.

First, we all share in the failure made public to the world by a Senate vote. The country with the greatest misinformation and energy consumption in the world failed to pass climate-change legislation. It stopped dead in the Senate. Why? Krugman explains that fingers have been routinely pointed in the wrong directions. The misinformation officers have blamed the science, the scientists and the economy. None is to blame.

"We didn't fail to act because of legitimate doubts about the science," Krugman writes, affirming the evidence of rising global temperatures. "Nor is this evidence tainted by scientific misbehavior. You've probably heard about the accusations leveled against climate researchers—allegations of fabricated data, the supposedly damning e-mail messages of 'Climategate,' and so on. What you may not have heard, because it has received much less publicity, is that every one of these supposed scandals was eventually unmasked as a fraud concocted by opponents of climate action, then bought into by many in the news media. You don't believe such things can happen? Think Shirley Sherrod."

Having dismissed allegations against the science and the scientists, Krugman moves on to his specialty, the economics, explaining, I suspect not for the first time, that the economy would not collapse, would still grow, if we enforced limits on greenhouse gas emissions. So what happened then? Why didn't we pass desperately needed legislation? What will history record (until such records are fried or submerged in seawater) about this failure to act?

Krugman invites us to follow the money behind the misinformation campaigns. "Look at the scientists who question the consensus on climate change; look at the organizations pushing fake scandals; look at the think tanks claiming that any effort to limit emissions would cripple the economy. Again and again, you'll find that they're on the receiving end of a pipeline of funding that starts with big energy companies." He cites Exxon Mobil's multimillion dollar misinformation campaign, Koch Industries' two-decade sponsorship of anti-environmental organizations and the industry money paid to politicians who consistently oppose climate-protection measures.

Avarice, of course, is partly to blame. "By itself," Krugman writes, "greed wouldn't have triumphed. It needed the aid of cowardice—above all, the cowardice of politicians who know how big a threat global warming poses, who supported action in the past, but who deserted their posts at the crucial moment."

Krugman names Sen. John McCain, who promised support for a cap-and-trade system if he were to become president. But someone else became president, and now McCain (sore loser?) suddenly doesn't stand for greenhouse gas reductions. Krugman argues, "It's hard to see his switch as anything other than the act of a man willing to sacrifice his principles, and humanity's future, for the sake of a few years added to his political career. Alas, Mr. McCain wasn't alone; and there will be no climate bill. Greed, aided by cowardice, has triumphed. And the whole world will pay the price."

As much as I admire Krugman, I have to end this on a hopeful note. We can't give up. There must be a climate bill, or all hail ignorance and oil-industry whores in the Senate.


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