The final version of the Clean Power Plan, President Obama’s signature climate change policy, came out on Monday. Here’s how to tell whether the politicians, special interests and commentators you’re going to hear talking about it are worth taking seriously.
If they’re criticizing the plan:
Are they willing to admit that we must listen to the warnings of experts and act strongly to head off the risk that the scientists are right?
Do they have a credible plan that would cut planet-warming greenhouse gases by as much as the president’s Clean Power Plan would? (A simple carbon tax would work great.)
Do they have a credible plan that would as effectively galvanize international climate negotiations, encouraging other nations to feel comfortable sacrificing along with us?
Are their arguments based on a blurry-eyed reverence for coal, a nasty fuel that makes people sick and produces massive amounts of carbon dioxide?
The right answers are “yes,” “yes,” “yes” and “no.”
If they’re praising the plan:
Do they talk gauzily about creating jobs or building the economy of the future without recognizing that addressing climate change will require real sacrifices from real people?
Are they willing to point out that the president’s plan is a second-best solution when a long-term, economy-wide, market-based policy, such as a carbon tax, would cost the country less?
Do they talk up how much the president’s plan would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions without noting it would get the country only a fraction of the way to decarbonizing the economy?
Do they pretend that it will be anything but excruciating trying to persuade other nations to commit to — and follow through on — serious greenhouse emissions cuts of their own?
The right answers are “no,” “yes,” “no” and “no.”
Fighting climate change is not going to be easy or painless, but the threat is large enough that we must try. It will take policy that musters Americans’ time, effort and money to transform where we get our energy and to contribute to a gradual international move away from fossil fuels. That transition will take decades and produce some losers. But having weak policy or no policy is just too risky to human society. There are better options than what’s on the table. But until Congress is willing to pass one of those better options, the Clean Power Plan is what we’ve got. It would help if more people realized that most of the big voices are selling an unforgivably incomplete picture.