International climate-change hesitation throughout the last month suggests that Climategate may be taking its toll on political agendas after all — not as dramatically as its critics may have hoped, but consistently nonetheless. The United States and Australia were both aggressively pursuing climate-change legislation a year ago, but lawmakers in both countries have spent late March and April backtracking.
In the U.S., we’ve seen a shift of priorities in Congress.
If you recall, almost a year ago, the House passed a cap-and-trade bill. But health-care reform took precedence, and the cap-and-trade bill crawled into a corner in the Senate, dying quietly in March. The bill died in part because its opponents took control of the political language — “cap-and-trade” became “cap-and-tax.”
Support for a less comprehensive carbon-emissions bill is petering out, too. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had been at the front of the effort, but on Saturday, he withdrew from the bill because of the Congressional focus on immigration reform.
Similarly, across the globe, Australia has shelved its effort to enact emissions limits. That has been a major victory for Australian business and the opposition in parliament; the prime minister had once placed climate-change policy at the center of his agenda.
In both Australia and the United States, politicians are acknowledging that it is now an inopportune time for climate-change legislation. That’s largely because Climategate gave the public good cause for doubt. Lawmakers know that any substantive climate-change legislation would affect the way of life of the average citizen. It would demand taxes, but it would also affect behavior. A skeptical public would not suffer these big changes gladly. The aftermath of ObamaCare provides an instructive example.
But climate-change critics would be mistaken if they took this retreat as a signal that the policy war has been won. In both the United States and Australia, lawmakers are merely choosing the possible over the unattainable, and the delays are in no way an acknowledgement of the validity of climate-change skepticism. Because the Climategate brouhaha is fading, policymakers will most likely wait. If conservatives are serious about stopping legislation founded in faulty science, they will use this delay to organize themselves and educate the public.