Leader Blues

Friday, January 02, 2009

EDITORIAL >>Gov. Beebe and warming

Count Governor Beebe as one politician who believes that global warming is real and a threat to civilization but not as one who intends to do much about it. Not his job, he implied on his monthly radio program.

This is a variation on an old doctrine. If you can’t perform a miracle there is little point in doing simple good works. President Bush embraced it when he rejected the global warming treaty. He initially thought global warming was nothing more than an interesting theory but even if it were real the United States should do nothing to curb the production of greenhouse gases, the principal culprit in climate change, because countries like China were increasing their burning of carbon at a faster pace than the United States and weren’t likely to slow down. So the biggest abusers of the atmosphere continue apace while the European Union and much of the rest of the world take marginal steps to reduce their carbon emissions.

Beebe said he gave no credence to commentators like Rush Limbaugh who say that global warming is a scientific hoax and a conspiracy to undermine the United States. Indeed, not a bona fide scientist in the world believes it is not happening, although some think it is not so grave or immediate or irreversible. But it is not something that individual states can do much about, the governor said. The country has to do something in concert to make a difference, so it is the primary responsibility of the national government.

He is right only about the emphasis. Only strong national policies dealing with conservation and the development of clean energy fuel can make the kind of difference that the world’s biggest carbon user and leader in all things moral and material should be making to protect future generations. That includes, as Beebe suggested, some form of carbon tax to discourage the use of carbon fuels and to pay for the transportation infrastructure. But that does not mean that individual states cannot or should not make a contribution, even with the same remedy.

When he got the question about state initiatives on global warming, the governor no doubt thought the next question would be about his handling of the quest by Southwestern Electric Power Co. to build a coal-burning generating plant near Hope, which will pump about 5 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere a year in addition to the 30 million tons that the state’s existing coal plants contribute yearly to atmospheric heating. Two regulatory commissions under the governor have given their blessings to the project. Beebe said stopping the plant was beyond his power and his will. Other governors, Republican and Democratic, have used their power in exactly that way.

The state Commission on Global Warming, which recommended that the governor declare a moratorium on new coal-fueled plants, did not have so cramped an idea about a small state’s obligation to address concerns about the earth’s future. It suggested 54 policy changes aimed at reducing Arkansas’ global-warming pollutants by 50 percent by the year 2035. If Arkansas succeeds in doing that, it will not reverse global warming, but one good work begets another. The planet will be saved by a million good works, not one miracle.