Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Climate change mitigation and property rights ... by gimleteye

There was something for everyone in yesterday's major speech by President Obama on climate change. If the President sticks to his message, climate change mitigation strategies could be a defining legacy of his administration.

President Obama's best line is to keep repeating, in terms of his GOP opponents and climate change deniers, "We don't have time to convene a meeting of the Flat Earth Society". Of course it doesn't help that those flat-earth members of Congress are substantially funded by the fossil fuel and electric power generation industries.

There was scarcely any mention of nuclear and instead a focus on "sustainable" energy like wind power, that practically-speaking is just nibbling at the edges and empowering another class of subsidized energy entrepreneurs. For instance, wind power is a marginal contributor but an effective visual for the public. Free energy! It will take a much sharper pencil -- and far more input by energy economists, scientists and private equity experts -- to detail a realistic, economically feasible transition from fossil fuels. 

On the same day as the President's speech, the US Supreme Court decided along party lines in favor of additional protections for property owners in the matter of government intervention in land use. The top court's decision will have far-reaching consequences in Florida, further inhibiting government planning and taxpayer funding of environmental restoration initiatives -- including climate change mitigation strategies.

It will be many years before Congress organizes a legislative response, if ever. What we have learned in Florida, with land use law, is that it is much, much harder to re-instate legislative intentions, forged out of years of compromise, once they are torn asunder. In the meantime according to the Bush Court, anything goes in coastal zones. President Obama can talk all he wants about making the nation's infrastructure "climate resilient", but the only practical consideration that matters is whether insurance can be obtained for homeowners, builders, and businesses. 

Put another way, so long as there is insurance that doesn't bankrupt policy holders, the United States property owners will build into the teeth of rising seas. Either let people build where they want, or, pay for taking their properties. 

Between decisions like yesterday's and Citizens United, that unleashed corporations into political elections everywhere, there seems an exuberance by the radical right that defies changing realities. Only time will tell if that's what voters want, and by that time our nation may be roiled by a panicky retreat from our shared losses. That is what climate change holds in store.

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