the national interest

Carly Fiorina Has a Position on Climate Change. It Is Not Very Intelligent.

GOP 2016 Fiorina
Carly Fiorina’s climate plan: talk to the hand. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/Corbis

The Republican position on climate change — do nothing to stop it — has not changed. But the rationale has. The old rationale focused heavily on the alleged failings of climate science — an argument that has the drawback of being so patently ridiculous that it contributes to the party’s well-deserved reputation for hostility to science that has hurt it among college-educated voters. The new rationale leans into the belief that reducing emissions is pointless because other countries will never, ever reduce their emissions. Carly Fiorina, who demonstrates in an interview with John Harwood a strong across-the-board fluency with Republican talking points, has the climate argument down:

I believe if you’re going to go to science, you need to read the fine print. And here’s what the scientists say: A single nation acting alone can make no difference at all. The only answer to this problem, according to the scientists, is a three-decade global effort, coordinated and costing trillions of dollars. Are you kidding? It’ll never happen.

When the Chinese said to Obama, “Oh, we’re going to come up with a deal with you, we’re going to stop increasing our global greenhouse emissions by 2025,” you know what they were doing? They were simply lifting a goal out of a five-year plan and saying, “We’ll play along.” They’re not playing along.

So Fiorina asserts the Chinese will never reduce their own carbon emissions. Unlike many of her fellow Republicans, she demonstrates awareness that the Chinese are expected to pledge to cap their emissions (which not long ago were expected to keep rising until around 2050) by 2025. People who follow this for a living, rather than make Republican voters like them for a living, believe the goals will be met. The Wall Street Journal reports today that “82% of industry experts say China will reach its emissions peak before 2030, with 39% saying before 2025 and 16% before 2020.”

But Fiorina discounts that promise because it is a goal, and goals, by definition, are fulfilled in the future. (“They were simply lifting a goal out of a five-year plan and saying, ‘We’ll play along.’”) Anything the Chinese promise will happen in the future is therefore worthless.

But what about the fact that Chinese coal use actually declined last year? Or that the carbon intensity of its economy has fallen? Or its very large expenditures to support green energy? Those aren’t promises — those are actual results.

In any case, if Republicans were truly certain that other countries would never agree to reduce their emissions, they would not be engaged in a desperate effort to talk them out of reducing their own emissions.

Fiorina goes on to give her better approach to limiting climate change:

The answer is innovation. And the only way to innovate is for this nation to have industries strong enough that they can innovate. So instead of destroying people’s livelihoods at the altar of ideology—which is what it is, not science—we ought to say, “We’re going to become the global energy powerhouse of the 21st century.”

It feels insulting to treat Fiorina’s succession of words as an actual idea, but let’s try anyway. Does innovation mean increased public funding for green-energy research and development? Putting a price on emissions that would incentivize the private sector to develop low-emissions innovations? Hoping the private sector somehow decides to switch the energy infrastructure from high-emissions to low-emissions without any prompting or financial incentive?

Fiorina likewise ignores the fact that massive amounts of innovation are under way, both domestically and abroad, rapidly bringing down the price of zero-emission energy sources and developing new batteries, electric cars, and sundry other technologies — because the private sector is responding to public subsidies and the expectation of carbon caps.

She also ignores that if “innovation” does create cheaper green-energy sources that displace old ones, then it will “destroy people’s livelihoods.” Your plan is either to protect all of the existing coal and oil jobs, or not. If your plan is to replace them, then you’re going to destroy those livelihoods, whether you destroy them through regulations, direct subsidy, or Fiorina’s undisclosed, magical free-enterprise solution that doesn’t cost anybody anything.

On the whole, I rate Fiorina’s response on climate change well above average for the Republican presidential field.

Carly Fiorina’s Climate Position Not Intelligent