The Frontline documentary on global warming, Heat, is an excellent piece of work, two tough hours of very heavy stuff. It will make you really scared and really angry. I would have done it with somewhat different emphasis, especially in the balance between implicitly promising salvation through this or that subsidized technology, and through big changes in behavior and consumption patterns. Interviewees mentioned the latter approach a couple of times approvingly, but there was nothing like the visual backup, nor analysis of what it would really mean, that “clean coal”, biofuels, wind, and the rest of the usual crowd received. But this criticism is in the “would have been even better” category; go watch it. And make sure your kids do, so you will know that they know to hold you accountable, it will improve your behavior to think about them thinking in, say, 2050 about how you spent the last decade and the next.

I was especially struck by how badly the captains of industry in coal electricity, automobiles, and petroleum acquitted themselves, along with their toadies and catspaws like Dingell and Inhofe and Bush. The whole crowd has basically bought themselves a decade of more profit, at the price of making climate stabilization a desperate emergency instead of a big project, or maybe at the price of the habitability of the planet. That’s sound business judgment? It’s not just that they sold us out, but that they sold out so cheap, and they’re losing anyway.

The oil guys are managing to squeeze out a few more years of not having to learn anything, but the GM execs have run out their string. Like the eastern coal folks, they didn’t save their local economies or their workers or even their companies: after decades of surly obstruction, lying, and almost purposeful incompetence, the US automakers have left eastern Michigan exactly the economic ruin they whined that CAFE standards (and emissions controls in the 70s) would bring, while Toyota is eating their lunch. And Appalachia is a wasteland of buried rivers, trashed mountains, and out-of-work losers.

Exxon will pay the price for straight-arming reality, too, maybe soon, despite the last couple of years of good looting. Never mind that these ‘leaders’ have behaved despicably as citizens (of the US and of the world) and as trustees of their organizations; what I kept saying to myself as I watched this show, and watched the lords of Wall Street amid their own wreckage the last few weeks, is that these guys seem to absolutely suck at what they do! Without a Niagara of public welfare payments and public protection from the marketplace they profess to worship, they can’t make a dime on a long-term basis nor build enduring enterprises. What a bunch of overpaid jerks. It wasn’t just the government being trashed by smirking, self-satisfied incompetents prating ideological nonsense these last couple of decades, it was our whole industrial and financial leadership class.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.