Who cares about global warming? Or, more to the point, who cares enough to downgrade their lifestyle? Who cares enough to drive a cramped, noisy, econo-box? Who cares enough to read by ugly CFL light, wear long underwear all winter, live in a bad school district in order to be close to work, etc.?
I would venture that the number is less than a political majority. And this may be OK.
No, I am not a global-warming denier. True, I disbelieve some of the more strident exaggerations of the current trends, and I think there is great uncertainty in the feedback effects. But I also think we should be prepared for the worst-case scenario in the IPCC report or even worse yet. The error bars I posit in the feedback loops spread each way. Yet I am still pretty chilled out about the matter, because a variety of factions and trends already in action may fix the problem before we ever get round to serious political efforts.
For example, there was never any need to ban high-power filament lightbulbs. LED technology was already available at a high price and now LED lights are an economical option for lights that are used frequently. Unlike CFLs, LED lights give off pleasant light. I'm writing this article under LED light because I like it.
Or consider solar energy. The price of solar panels has dropped to the point that the power companies are complaining about revenues lost to net metering. Meanwhile, Elon Musk just announced that Tesla will be unveiling a new power pack for the home in six months so that solar homes can dispense with the power companies altogether. His company Tesla also makes luxury electric cars. These aren't painful econo-boxes, they are fun. Self-interest is going green.
OK, let me take off my gee-whiz propeller hat for a moment. Tesla's cars may be fun, but they are still very expensive. Lithium supplies are limited so Tesla's forthcoming batteries are not a People's Solution. Pie-in-the-sky predictions of affordable alternative energy go back as far as I can remember. We are just looking at the edge of a transition, and energy technology does turn over more slowly than computers or consumer electronics.
But the trend is there. Once upon a time Jimmy Carter called for a massive government effort to promote shale energy in order to gain independence from the oil sheiks. The program never got off the ground and was soon cancelled completely. Today, Carter's dream is becoming a reality without the massive subsidies.
The same will happen for solar even if all subsidies are eliminated (including net-metering rates that don't include a surcharge for hookup). There are enough rich people who do care about global warming to keep the solar industry going.
There are also survivalists, right-wing-conspiracy theorists, libertarians and other curmudgeons who would love to say good-bye to their power company and are willing to spend some extra bucks to do so. Get the price down enough and many rednecks will join in as well.
I can see a day not far from now when gated golf-course communities ban power lines as unsightly. Peer out a bit farther and I can see communities that ban internal-combustion engines as a public nuisance because of their noise alone. Rich Republicans like their peace and quiet.
But will these things happen fast enough without some extra government help? Once again, I ask "Who cares about global warming?"Actions Worth Doing Regardless of Global Warming
Let's take a more immediate crisis: the federal debt. It has exploded due to the actions of the past two administrations, and the worst is yet to come: the baby-boomers are starting to retire! The federal government needs mass quantities of additional tax revenues and it needs them yesterday. (And it needs to take a break from fighting wars abroad and at home as well.) Taxing the very rich will only take care of part of the bill (my evil tax plan here). We cannot get away with the astronomical top tax rates of yesteryear. Back in the "good old days" the U.S. was an island of capitalism in a sea of socialism and communism. Today, the rich have many other options. The Laffer Curve peak is lower than it once was.
Since I hate complicated and intrusive tax systems, and some of my libertarian friends like the idea of a consumption tax, I say let's have a carbon tax whether global warming is an imminent threat or not. A carbon tax is compatible with pre-16th Amendment Constitution. It is a set of tariffs and excises on a few commodities. Unlike the Fair Tax, a carbon tax does not require the government to snoop on the affairs of every business doing retail in the country. We just need to monitor a few power plants, oil refineries, and gas pipelines. These are very hard-to-hide structures.
But a carbon tax would fall heavily on the economies of Texas and Koch Industries. This makes Republicans sad, so we can't have that. My solution: make the tariff on non-NAFTA oil imports considerably higher than the domestic carbon tax. Imagine Wahabi fanatics having to choose between their Bentleys and funding world terrorism. This should make Republican happy. Imagine being able to disengage from the Middle East entirely. This should make progressives and libertarians happy.
Alas, a carbon tax is a flat tax or close to it, and this makes Democrats sad. Indeed, once the rich start buying more solar panels and Tesla cars, a carbon tax could become regressive. The solution is free money. Give every citizen a big fat "prebate." If you burn less fossil fuel than the average person, you get a net subsidy from the government. This should make eco hippies happy.
Finally, let me broach an energy-saving idea that would give much happiness to the most adamant deniers of global warming of all: Christian conservatives. Solar power is an easy replacement for fossil fuels in the home. Electric-car technology, on the other hand, is still very expensive and has range issues. One way around this challenge is to simply drive less, and that means live close to work. Today, those who get paid well put much of that money into long commutes so they can live in good school districts. Gasoline is cheaper than private-school tuition. Implement school vouchers and you will see a mass migration back into the cities. School choice works better with higher population densities. More people means more schools within walking distance.
But can you handle that one? Are you willing to allow some children to skip their Darwin lessons in return for less carbon-dioxide emissions? How much do you care about global warming?