Science and the planet sold out for a bowl of grits

Today the president signed legislation forbidding the Federal Reserve Bank from considering effects on employment in setting interest rates. The obscure provision of the banking bill was included with strong behind-the-scenes support from corporate lobbyists, who have argued that employment effect estimates are highly uncertain, that many factors affect employment, and that only predictive models, not sound economic science, link interest rates to unemployment outcomes.

Sound insane? Try this one:

Waxman appears to have sold out the indirect land use issue in a deal with Peterson on the climate change bill.

Waxman also consented to block EPA from calculating “indirect” greenhouse gas emissions from land-use changes when implementing the federal biofuels mandate. The Democrats will impose a five-year moratorium to allow further study of the issue, with consultation from Congress, EPA, the Energy Department and USDA instrumental in restarting the measurements in the biofuels rules.

It’s not easy to exaggerate just how bad this is. Waxman-Markey has been savaged on the implicit principle that climate stabilization is good, but only if no-one important has to actually do anything different to accomplish it. Among the people who get a pass are anyone who burns coal, and anyone who grows corn or makes fuel out of it; I was worried months ago that a president from a coal state and a corn state might be a problem, but then he promised flatly that in his administration, science was not going to be yoked to a political ox. Boy, is the bloom off this rose: DADT, climate and energy, transparency… “Better than Bush in some ways” is a mighty big comedown from the PR of a few months ago.

In Copenhagen this December, the Indians and the Chinese will be within their rights, and maybe even well-advised, to say “you spent the last eight years burning as much oil and coal as you could, and denying climate change was a problem. Now you enact legislation that forces use of corn ethanol that’s more global warming intensive than gasoline, muzzles your scientists, and requires your regulatory agencies to lie to the public about greenhouse gas releases, all to put money in the pocket of your farmers and reelect a few rural legislators. You’ve made sure no-one who uses electricity from coal will have any reason to use any less of it. You expect us to do your climate stabilization for you, and even more to make up for the antics of these yokels, and to help you pretend you’re being green when you’re not? You trashed Kyoto and now you’re here to trash Copenhagen: get a grip. We’re out of here.”

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.