Not a word was uttered about climate change during the three US presidential debates, but President Barack Obama got back on the global warming bandwagon as soon as the polls closed. In his victory speech, he announced: "We want our children to live in an America that isn't burdened by debt, that isn't weakened by inequality, that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet."
The President's words were carefully chosen to resonate with people still traumatised by Hurricane Sandy. In the days before the election, global warming alarmists jumped on Sandy as evidence that global warming is already here, is bad, and is going to get worse. New York's billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, cited Sandy as the reason for his last-minute endorsement of the president on the grounds that he was more likely to care about the issue than Mitt Romney.
The facts are exactly the opposite of the claims. We are currently in the middle of the low phase of the Atlantic hurricane cycle. There have been far fewer major hurricanes in the past few years than the long-term average. Even though Sandy did a lot of damage, it had been downgraded from hurricane to tropical storm by the time it hit New York City. Scientists calculated that it was the 17th most damaging hurricane in the past century. To make just one comparison, three much stronger hurricanes hit the US in less than two years in the early 1950s. Why didn't the public back then demand action to stop climate change?
Leaders of environmental pressure groups, who had complained bitterly about the president's failure to make climate change an issue in the campaign against Romney, quickly claimed that this brief nod to their holy of holies was in fact a major commitment to the energy-rationing agenda for Obama's second term.
We shall see. One of Obama's trademark policies, cap-and-trade legislation to reduce progressively greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal, oil and natural gas (which combined provide the cheaper 80 per cent of America's energy), failed in the Senate in 2010. A number of Democratic members of the House of Representatives who had narrowly voted to pass cap-and-trade in 2009 were defeated in the 2010 congressional elections, which contributed to the Republicans winning a majority in the House. They maintained that majority in last month's election, despite Romney's loss and a gain of two Democrats in the Senate, suggesting that the electorate has not changed its mind on cap-and-trade since 2010.
The reason is that Americans now understand that cap-and-trade is a disguised tax on energy use. It was defeated because opponents successfully educated the public that, although it was not called a tax, it was in fact a tax on consumers. Having failed to enact a sneaky tax, global warming alarmists have now turned to pushing a direct tax on emissions: a carbon tax.
On the face of it, a carbon tax seems to have no chance of being enacted. However, its proponents have a clever strategy. They are trying to convince fiscally conservative Republicans to support a carbon tax as part of a much larger tax and budget deal that will reduce the federal deficit. The appeal of a carbon tax is not its minimal contribution to saving the planet from global warming, which has no appeal to Republicans in Congress and little appeal to the American public. Rather, the case for a carbon tax is that it would raise a huge amount of revenue.
So the idea is that deficit hawks could support a carbon tax in order to cut the deficit. The problem is that there are competing claims on the revenue it would raise. Big spending liberals want a carbon tax in order to fund more government programmes. Environmentalists and investors in green energy companies want a carbon tax to subsidise green energy programmes. And yet others on the Left demand that some of the revenue be given back to poorer people, who already pay a much higher percentage of their incomes on energy than do wealthier people, so raising energy prices will hit them hard. My guess is that a carbon tax will founder over squabbles about how to divvy up the booty. Unfortunately, that is not the end of efforts to implement the alarmists' agenda.
The day after Republicans won a majority in the House in the November 2010 elections, President Obama acknowledged that cap-and-trade was dead, but he added ominously: "Cap-and-trade was just one way of skinning the cat."
With no chance of getting any energy-rationing legislation through Congress, Obama has spent the past two years using the Clean Air Act and other existing laws to implement environmental regulations to constrict fossil energy production, including shale gas, and raise the price of using fossil fuels. Only a few of these new regulations have gone into effect, but several others will start to bite in the next few years, and the administration has a bunch of new ones on the drawing board.
These regulations will not do much to reduce emissions, but taken together they are almost certain eventually to do a lot of economic damage. US economic growth is weak now. If the American economy slides back into recession, Obama's other ways of skinning the cat are likely to be a significant contributor to the downturn.
The global warming fad will almost certainly continue to fade, but that does not guarantee that the environmental Left's anti-energy agenda will collapse-least of all in the US, the country that more than any other built its economy on abundant, affordable energy. Continuing along the path that made America the wealthiest country in the world is not, it would seem, part of President Obama's agenda.