Some readers recoiled at my depiction last year of Gov. Bill Ritter’s Climate Action Plan as a “faith-based document” that barely hints at the “grueling acrobatics” needed to reach its goals of a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. How dare I suggest that the path to whopping reductions in greenhouse emissions might be anything other than painless and smooth?
Don’t I realize we’re a can-do nation that refuses to balk at challenges, no matter how large? Put on a happy face, climb aboard the New Energy Economy Express and let’s not worry about the train’s final destination.
Six months later, however, my words seem overly indulgent, not overly harsh. It turns out that “grueling acrobatics” hardly begin to describe what may have to be done to achieve an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse emissions by mid-century.
“By the year 2050,” Steven Hayward wrote this week in The Wall Street Journal, “the Census Bureau projects that our population will be around 420 million. This means per capita emissions will have to fall to about 2.5 tons in order to meet the goal of 80 percent reduction.
“It is likely that U.S. per capita emissions were never that low – even back in colonial days when the only fuel we burned was wood. . . .
“If that comparison seems unfair, consider that even the least-CO2-emitting industrialized nations do not come close to the 2050 target. France and Switzerland, compact nations that generate almost all of their electricity from nonfossil fuel sources (nuclear for France, hydro for Switzerland) emit about 6.5 metric tons of CO2 per capita.”
For years I’ve pushed my kids to spend more time in outdoor activities. But if there’s anything to the astonishing analysis of Hayward, who works at the American Enterprise Institute, I can stop the nagging. By the time they’re my age – absent revolutionary breakthroughs, and assuming strict adherence to current climate goals – the lifestyle of the typical Coloradan may have more in common with that of Jim Bridger and Jedediah Smith than anything familiar to us today.
Talk about history repeating itself.
The burden of morality
Not to unload on our genial governor, who in some cases has indeed charted the centrist course he pledged during his campaign, but why does Ritter feel compelled to cite the alleged “morality” of the state budget he oversees?
He did this last year and he repeated the claim again this week, trumpeting the $18.4 billion budget he signed as a “moral document.”
Ritter is right, to be sure, that the budget reflects to some degree the moral priorities – or at least the values – of its authors. But the description is a trifle pompous and even sanctimonious. It implies that people who disagree with those priorities – who would have preferred, for example, to spend a few million dollars less on higher education – are somehow not as high-minded and virtuous as those who supported them.
What the writer Joan Didion noted years ago remains true today. “The most disturbing aspect of ‘morality’ seems to me,” she said, “to be the frequency with which the word now appears; in the press, on television, in the most perfunctory kinds of conversation. Questions of straightforward power politics, questions of quite indifferent public policy, questions of almost anything: They are all assigned these factitious moral burdens. There is something facile going on, some self-indulgence at work.”
After all is said and done, the legislature’s task is to take a gigantic pot of money and divvy it up responsibly among a host of competing demands and interests. It’s important work, but let’s not start pretending it’s a ministry.