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The Big Problem With Climate 'Realism'

Penny-ante political moderation can not possibly get the job done

If the scientists are right, "isn't Pelosi's incrementalist approach to climate absurdly inadequate?" he writes. "Isn't it, in fact, like trying to put out a forest fire with a plant mister?"(Photo: Illustrated | Mark Wilson/Getty Images, JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

If the scientists are right, "isn't Pelosi's incrementalist approach to climate absurdly inadequate?" he writes. "Isn't it, in fact, like trying to put out a forest fire with a plant mister?"(Photo: Illustrated | Mark Wilson/Getty Images, JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

limate change has vaulted to the top of the political discourse, with the rollout of the Green New Deal policy framework and the subsequent discussion of what policies it should contain. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), for instance, recently announced he is running for president with a platform laser-focused on climate change.

All this has political moderates rolling their eyes. "The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they're for it right?" scoffed Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) scolded a bunch of children who came to her office begging her to support the Green New Deal, saying "I know what I'm doing … it's not a good resolution." New York Times columnist Bret Stephens concludes that if famed lefty Pelosi doesn't support it, the GND must be basically silly: "[I]t's time to move climate policy beyond impractical radicalism and feckless virtue-signaling to something that can achieve a plausible, positive, and bipartisan result."

All this reveals the bankruptcy of so-called "realism" on climate change.

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The remarkable thing about Stephens' column is that he perceives the problem with the Democratic moderate climate stance with perfect accuracy. Unlike Stephens in his Wall Street Journal incarnation, Feinstein and Pelosi do not deny the science of climate change. But if the scientists are right, "isn't Pelosi's incrementalist approach to climate absurdly inadequate?" he writes. "Isn't it, in fact, like trying to put out a forest fire with a plant mister?"

Yep! But contrary to Stephen's conclusion that Pelosi's political reasoning must be correct, one can easily accept climate science while refusing to accept the obvious policy implications — that we need radical policy to wrench down emissions as fast as possible. It is its own version of climate denial, in a sense.

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Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent at TheWeek.com. His work has appeared in the Washington Monthly, The New Republic, and the Washington Post.

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