Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Reading the AEI and Exxon tea leaves on global warming

Leaving aside the propriety issue of the American Enterprise Institute's attempt to buy anti-IPCC studies, it's interesting to look at the angle they're taking:

..... AEI would like to commission a series of essays from a broad range of experts on various general and specific aspects of the issue [climate policy]....

....climate change has tended to be caught in a straightjacket between so-called “skeptics” and so-called “alarmists,” with seemingly little room left in the middle for people who may have reasonable doubts or heterodox views about the range of policy prescriptions that should be considered for climate change of uncertain dimension. This perception is mistaken, of course, as Andrew Revkin’s recent New York Times article on “an emerging middle ground” on climate change made evident. Nonetheless, we would like to attempt to break out of this straightjacket and see if it is possible to create a space for an identifiable “third way” of thinking about the problem....

.... One idea is to solicit essays in two categories. The first category would be along the lines of a blue-sky essay on “What Climate Policies Would I Implement If I Was King for a Day.” The second category would be specific critiques of existing or proposed policy responses such as will appear in Working Group III or have been put forward in reports such as the Stern Review....

The two actors who motives we need to consider are AEI as an institution, and ExxonMobil. AEI wants to keep its snout in the trough that is Exxon funding, and whatever similar funding it can get from that part of the economic spectrum. Exxon has trouble funding complete denialism now, given its recent promises not to, so AEI is positioning itself to follow the moving trough into a "Third Way," something that's allegedly Not-Denialism.

Exxon, meanwhile, has done a somewhat strange conference call with mid-ranking climate change bloggers to explain its position. Nothing against those bloggers (they're bigger than little ol' me), but there are bigger ones who write regularly about climate, and still more popular blogs like Washington Monthly and Talking Points Memo that understand the issues. My guess is it's a trial balloon and a chance to refine their message, and the message Exxon claims to be giving out is "climate change is a serious issue and that action must be taken."

There's an unsurprising fit between AEI and Exxon's latest stance. But, what does it mean? You can take the plain English approach, and I won't discount the possibility that even at the highest levels of one of the worst oil companies, there's a limit to the lying.

Somewhat more sinister would be that they're still going to lie as always, while restrained by the fact that there's only a certain distance that they can stretch between the truth and their lies. As the truth is getting more clearly in one direction, they have to shift in that direction, but still lie.

Third, and sadly most likely, is it's the standard response of a regulated industry to imminent regulation: "if you can't beat 'em, delay 'em." Let a thousand alternative policies bloom, and declare that government should do nothing while the debate continues as to the best approach. Every year of delay means that much more profit, at least in the short term quarterly earnings perspective.

Part of the reason why I think the third outcome is most likely is that I share the opinion of most of the other climate bloggers I read, that Revkin's article didn't really come up with a "third way," and the people he cited believe in controlling emissions. AEI might come up with a third way, or a thousand third ways, but they'll be bogus.

Here's hoping I'm wrong.

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