Green Days Ahead

Jewish Light Editorial

Climate change naysayers in this country are too busy figuring out how to derail this week’s Paris accord than to recognize the astounding, impressive result of nearly 200 nations signing on to set common goals for reducing carbon emissions. Goals that, while hardly as aggressive as they could have been (that’s what usually happens in a grand compromise), could nevertheless have a profoundly positive impact on sustaining the planet.

Everyone’s entitled to his or her opinion, for sure, about the impact that global warming is having on Earth. Not every opinion is well informed, but that shouldn’t prevent anyone from opining.

But we need not pay attention to “anyone” when setting public policy relating to the health of the planet. We should take most seriously into account the prevailing views of climatological experts who employ the scientific method to hypothesize, test, theorize and retest. And based on those views, rather than our own, non-scientific ones, we should analyze the issue from the best public policy perspectives available to us.

We can fairly well discount those who claim the climate change movement is a hoax and fraud, who are exclusively protecting financial interests or have a drastic antagonism to government intervention, regulation and the balance between the environment and the economy. We’re not impressed by those who toe some extreme line that removes any consideration of global health. They can mouth the words, but we don’t have to listen to them.

Others contend that we don’t know for sure how much warming is likely to occur in the coming decades and centuries, so it’s not fair to impose harsh restrictions on business and individuals when uncertainty looms.


Fair enough. It’s quite true that we cannot predict the future and don’t know which projections are most likely to materialize. All we can rely on is extensive modeling that takes into account worst case, plausible case and best case scenarios.

But here’s where, from a tikkun olam perspective, we find the detractors’ positions to be unpersuasive.

There are many, many studies that show the worst case as increasing the average temperature in a way that threatens major species, including ours. If those of us concerned about the worst case scenarios are right — and those scenarios are just as rooted in legitimate science as the less drastic ones — then without major international cooperation and action, we run the risk of losing our planet and its efficacy as a home for our children and grandchildren. And the poorest of the poor, in undeveloped countries and regions, will bear the biggest brunt of the pain and suffering.

But if those of us concerned about the worst case scenarios are wrong, then the risk is basically money. Money in the form of costs associated with enhanced regulation, and, detractors argue, of fewer jobs in our traditional energy economy.

Let’s take the last first. We’re not necessarily buying the jobs thing for several reasons. First, we’ve seen the ascendancy of green businesses and a green economy, with the cost of alternative and renewable energy sources dropping and becoming more of an entrenched component of our resource matrix. So yesterday’s jobs may well be replaced by tomorrow’s ones.

But with serious and well-deserved respect to business interests, even if net jobs are lost, is it an outcome that makes us willing to take the chance that we will destroy a large swath of the globe as livable ecosystems? It’s not.

Then there’s the regulation thing. More imposition of restrictions will make it far less likely that businesses can turn a buck, thus dissuading investment, risk and ultimately, entrepreneurship.

This argument is obviously one of degree, but it should be noted that the United States economy is stable despite our businesses being subject to many regulations that protect not only the environment, but workers as well.

Other, non-monetary concerns have been raised, too. Some are making a big deal out of the fact that Congress isn’t being asked to ratify the agreement, even though it is not a treaty in any conventional sense. But this is perhaps the easiest of the arguments to deflect: Someone can certainly sue to determine if the executive branch exceeds its authority by imposing regulations to enforce the accord. Federal judges can decide the issue one way or the other. Easy peasy.

And once that’s resolved, if the executive branch’s authority remains to partner with almost 200 nations to make the planet safer from climate change and man-made global warming? We’ll take that any day of the week over the non-decimating costs of doing business. Humans are resourceful; we can figure out how to do just about anything short of defying extinction.