Cool on warming

Climate | Economic hardship and falling oil prices are changing the greenscape

Issue: "Obama," Nov. 15, 2008

Think a Barack Obama presidency will significantly change the country's course on climate policy? Not so, says a growing cadre of economists, political analysts, and environmental experts. Charles McElwee, a law professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and a leading liaison between the United States and China on emissions discussions, contends that the president-elect is not likely to convince Congress to ratify hard caps on greenhouse gases amid the nation's economic turmoil. Harlan L. Watson, the State Department's special envoy to the UN on climate change, goes one step further, arguing that no world leader, including the new American president, is going to bear the financial cost necessary to clamp down on carbon anytime soon: "The economy is going to be the focus of the new U.S. president and the world leaders for the foreseeable future. Quite frankly, the economy has buried everything."

Global financial hardship has undermined the long propagated myth among some environmentalists that going green on climate policy will usher in new energy markets, create jobs, and stoke national economies. Obama will have a hard time embracing the current climate-change bill bouncing around Congress, which calls for 80 percent emissions reductions from 2005 levels by 2050. Its passage should be certain in a Democratic Congress fortified by election victories. But amid economic uncertainty, even Democratic supermajorities could prove a bit cool on the global warming issue.

Further deterring alternative fuel research: falling oil prices. Royal Dutch Shell became the latest oil company to halt such a project, announcing in October an indefinite stop to development of Canada's once-booming tar sands industry, amid soaring costs and plunging oil prices.

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