How Aggressively Will the New Administration Address Global Warming?

Very, it would seem.

This isn’t exactly a surprise. Obama campaigned hard on the subject. But a couple of personnel moves in recent days suggest that, despite the cratering economy, the administration is also eager to tackle the energy/global warming issues.

The first move is the ouster of John Dingell as chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, to be replaced by Henry Waxman.

Both men are Democrats, but Dingell is from the old school, and from Michigan, with a reputation for being auto-industry friendly; Waxman, from California, is an avowed environmentalist. (To be reductive: Dingell is gas-powered while Waxman is wind-powered.) Between this switch and the rejection (for now) of the Big Three’s plea for Congressional aid, the gas-burning car paradigm looks headed for a shift.

Also interesting is the expected appointment of Peter Orszag as director of the Office of Management and Budget. As director of the Congressional Budget Office, Orszag has been, among other things, a blogger. Here are his posts on climate change; and here’s a presentation he recently made at Wellesley College on the subject. Here’s his summary of the basic science:

+ Virtually impossible to account for 20th-century changes in climate without attributing a significant but uncertain share to anthropogenic G.H.G. emissions.

+ Only about half of warming already set in motion has occurred to this point.

+ Much more warming than that is likely, however,

– Reducing emissions from current levels would still mean rising concentration.

It is statements like these that have gotten Orszag called an alarmist.

If this administration gets its hands dirty with energy and climate issues — and it looks as if it sure plans to — we are in for a very interesting four years, to say the least. If nothing else, it will be nice to hear some policy arguments that incorporate lots of economic and scientific material.


I like how he notes that the anthropogenic share is uncertain. Basically, it probably plays a role but we don't know how much.

Here is the difficulty with global warming research on the global level: no control group. We have nothing to compare the situation to (except other time periods, which creates a real problem).


"If nothing else, it will be nice to hear some policy arguments that incorporate lots of economic and scientific material."

I'd assign a very low probability to this happening.

Making sausages.


I like how the Obama Administration gets credit for the switch from Dingle to Waxman.


"(To be reductive: Dingell is gas-powered while Waxman is wind-powered.) "

All politicians are wind-powered.


The urgency of GW cannot be overstated, as Orszag appears to understand from his science-based, conservative statements. Another way to look at the problem with the numbers:

- preindustrial levels of GHG CO2: 270 ppm
- current level: 385 ppm and rising at rate of 2 ppm/yr
- realistic level at which we can expect to level off (if we act quickly): 450 ppm
- highest level at which marine and land ecosystems can maintain balance: 350 ppm (Hansen, et al, NASA, 2008)

That leaves us 100 ppm above where we need to be, which is 50 years of polluting at current levels: that's a lot of heat absorbing carbon.

During his campaign, Obama very clearly and plainly described a plan to develop 5 million new green jobs, an FDR-sized worker program, and he was elected with a solid majority. I believe this is a mandate for new energy and economic policy to shift away from fossil fuels and towards the green economy that the human ecosystem depends upon.

It will be an interesting 4 years indeed. Let's hope it'll be the discussions in DC that are interesting and not the heat waves in the mid-west, more powerful hurricanes off Florida, more forest fires in the west, more pine beetle infestations in our forests, etc., etc


James A

Talk about setting up for one of the greatest tax schemes of all time (and at exactly the wrong time I might add). The entire carbon credit trading system is based on an assumption that relies on a lot of guesstimates about what will happen to the climate in the future. Given my local weatherman can't forecast past one day (see previous Freakonomics posting for that), one can only imagine how they can predict the coming global apocalypse with such certainty. I would much rather the free market dictate the rate and extent of change to deal with climate change. Unfortunately, I don't think there's anyone left now in Washington who believes the same as I do.

Bill Hewitt

Actually, MikeM, you can pretty well take it as a given that Obama expressed his preferences in any number of ways to the House Democratic caucus. There is at least one very significant link between Henry Waxman and Obama: Phil Schiliro will be the new Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs and was Waxman's Chief of Staff.

That's not the whole story, to be sure. Some of this story goes back nearly 30 years. See more on this at

David Zetland

All I care about is that they push carbon TAXES back on the agenda to complete with Cap and Trade.

Eric M. Jones

Let's hope Obama has more important issues to address.

Not to start an argument on global warming... but two thing are certainly true:

1) Science is not done by a concensus voting for a particular point of view, however fashionable it may be.

2) As David Deutsch says: "...It is far too late to stop global warming. In fact it was already too late to avoid it even in the 1970's when the best available scientific theory said that industrial emissions would cause a new ice age, killing millions."

Carl Meyer

@James A: Thank goodness no-one in Washington believes as you do. It would behoove "free market" advocates to have a basic understanding of how a free market works. Global warming is a market externality (carbon emissions distribute the harm, but concentrate the benefit). Pure markets are not capable of accounting for externalities, because significant costs and/or benefits extend beyond the parties involved in a given transaction. The purpose of making public policy for the public good is, in part, to correct for externalities and guide the market towards better outcomes.


Uncertain means no reasonable person would put a number to it. Lets see how reasonable he is. If you hear a number from him, run away.

I want to see carbon taxes and cap and trade scrapped. CAFE is a far better choice. Taxes and caps reduce consumption almost entirely by destroying productivity. Increases in efficiency effectively increases supply, stimulating economic activity.


i hope that gets passed down to arnold in sacramento. as someone who lives in the bay area without a car, i obviously depend immensely on public transit and our beloved governor is planning on taking away hundreds of millions of dollars from mass transit budgets to deal with the economic crisis. bummer dude. sorry planet, i guess i'll just have to get a car.


Interesting to see this contrast of views on the environment, as we just read about Ron Paul's opinion of dealing with global warming and biofuels. I guess you could say that, according to Dr Paul, that Obama is taking the "the sky is falling" approach, since the president-elect is going to meddle in economic affairs to solve this problem. Hopefully the changes that the next administration makes will not have a negative effect on the economy. I think most Americans would agree that right now, a very pressing issue is economic stimulation, and that should be taken into account by the president-elect as he takes office.


I think we best be getting on with the promise of making America energy independent.Iran just asked OPEC to reduce production by yet another 1.5 million barrels per day.This past year and the record gas prices played a huge part in our economic meltdown and seriously damaged our society.We keep planning to spend BILLIONS on bailouts and stimulus plans.Bail us out of our dependence on foreign oil. Make electric plug in car technology more affordable. It cost the equivalent of 60 cents a gallon to drive an electric plug in car. The electric could be generated from wind or solar. Get with it! Utilize free sources such as wind and solar. Stop throwing away money on things that don't work. Invest in America and it's energy independence. Create cheap clean energy, create millions of badly needed green collar jobs. Put America back to work. It is a win-win situation. We have to become more poractive citizens, educate ourselves and demand our elected officials move this country forward into the era of energy independence. Jeff Wilson's new book The Manhattan Project of 2009 Energy Independence NOW outlines a plan for America to wean itself off oil. We need a plan and we need it now!



@James A, "Given my local weatherman can't forecast ... how they can predict the coming global apocalypse with such certainty." - for the same reason you can cannot predict what one random wave on the beach will do, but you can predict tides. Small localized weather patterns are easily changed and influenced by many short term events (pressure zones, wind flows, tidal behavior, etc) and so hard to predict much in advance. Wholesale changes in the atmosphere and ice caps are slow to change and so predicting *trends* is much easier.


@PaulK, you are right JamesA confuses weather with climate and your wave example is a good one.

Although the *trends* of which you speak are currently evidence of non-warming. Global temperatures have been flat or cooling for 10 years, the Arctic coverage is 30% higher than it was at the same date in 2007 and is now within a standard deviation of the 30 -year mean (i.e. "not melting"), and the Antarctic has been adding ice unhindered for decades. Climate change = non-problem.

@EricM/12.47pm, also a bit misguided. You correctly point out the rapid increase in CO2, but this CO2 has increased over the last 10 years of cooling - you have failed to make the connection between CO2 and temperature (hint - because it's very weak). Also, in case you say 10 years isn't long enough, why did it cool between the 40s and 70s? Climate change = non-problem.

Back on topic, I despair for a society that is considering action on Climate Change when we have deforestation, overfishing, land degradation, real and actual pollution, famine and disease but we choose to spend billions on non-problems (no - none of those things are related to CO2). I support alternative energy and fuel efficiency but for energy security reasons, not for a non-problem.

Can we appoint some people to House Committees who care about real problems (and yes get rid of Dingell - too pro auto).

Before anybody SHOUTS at me, all the things I've said here are verifiable, non-controversial and you can find them out yourselves. Seek out information, analyse, make your own decisions and avoid being brainwashed.



Here's a standard for Obama to match up to...

the Climate change bill is due to become law in the UK on Thursday 27th... this commits UK goverment to a 80% CO2 reduction by 2050, setting carbon budgets in every area. And the UK is (or so government contends!) on track to meet its 12.5% reduction as agreed at Kyoto.

note UK and European industry already has Carbon trading (though its still a little bit broken).

I'd like to believe there IS someone in the US who believes in climate change and is prepared to do something about it. America's reputation as wasteful and unconcerned in this area does you as much harm as the war in Iraq.


@DMS: I do not agree with you on the trends. The trends are showing instability in the annual temperature in different regions. Net global temp is not a good indicator, as you can still have global balance, but disastrous consequences from regional shifts. If the poles get warmer by a few degrees and the equator gets cooler by the the same, we would still have massive flooding and destruction to agriculture and drinking water.


This is from Woods Hole:
"...While it is impossible to establish a direct causal link between greenhouse gas accumulation and individual, relatively short-term climatic events, it is certain that we have been experiencing increasing numbers of climatic events unprecedented in the human experience. It is also certain that many of the greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane, have lengthy residence times in the atmosphere and that we will continue to be affected for years or even centuries to come by the atmospheric burden we are creating today. (For comments on the role of scientific uncertainty in climate change policy, see Dr. John Holdren's address at the White House Conference on Climate Change October 6th, 1997.)"
Dr Holdren's address is here and worth the quick read:

If there is one piece of evidence about CO2 accumulation that is globally damaging, it is the acidification of the oceans. The pH of the oceans has become more acidic by 0.1 units over measurable time, specifically due to the increased concentration of atmosphere CO2 being absorbed into the water. This has direct consequences on marine ecosystems and life, including and most importantly on small shell creatures' ability to make carbonaceous shells for themselves. These little guys are the foundation of marine life, being at the bottom of the food chain.


Global Gifting Systems

global meltdown has just started. lets see what happens