Here’s the illogic behind McConnell’s argument: The amount of carbon dioxide that Obama’s Clean Power Plan would remove from the atmosphere is relatively small in the context of global climate change. In isolation, it would do relatively little to prevent dangerous global climate change. Therefore, the GOP Congress will fight it.
What this leaves out is the fact that the United States is not acting in isolation. The Paris climate conference that began Monday, the reason McConnell is writing in the first place, is evidence of that. Some 170 countries are bringing emissions commitments to the table, a fact that would have been impossible without the very Clean Power Plan that McConnell dismisses as an irrelevant “carbon rounding error.” Noting that China recently revised its emissions figures, McConnell implies that other nations’ commitments are insignificant. He is wrong. Taken together, the Paris commitments would not get future emissions down to levels scientists say are relatively safe — but they would get the world nearly half the way there and help to head off catastrophic warming.
If McConnell were arguing that this is not nearly enough — that the world, including the United States, needs to ramp up its ambition — he would be right. Instead, he’s attempting to prevent the world from making even the progress to which it is poised to agree in Paris.
“The president’s international negotiating partners at that conference should proceed with caution before entering into an unattainable deal with this administration,” he writes, noting congressional and state-level GOP opposition, “because commitments the president makes there would rest on a house of cards of his own making.”
The Paris agreement will be non-binding, McConnell goes on to complain, which is in large part true because McConnell and the GOP Senate would oppose any climate treaty sent to them for ratification.
Obama’s Clean Power Plan, McConnell essentially argues, will not work because Republicans will undermine it and spoil the sort of international progress it is meant to encourage. The fundamental problem is not the Clean Power Plan. It is McConnell and the Republicans.
What does McConnell expect a global response to climate change would look like? In fact, no significant strategy is likely to satisfy him, since it would require the United States to reduce its emissions in concert with others. McConnell offers no alternative policy in his op-ed and maps out no alternative path to addressing climate change, implying that he favors doing little or nothing.
McConnell is not alone. Versions of his argument are increasingly common among Republican leaders, including presidential candidates such as Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.). Among the things they don’t explain is how they can credibly lead in the 21st century without a real plan to address one of this century’s greatest challenges. The only response they seem to stand for is wiping away the plan the rest of the world is making.