Not Easy Being Green

The Carbon Crunch
How We’re Getting Climate Change Wrong—And How to Fix It
Dieter Helm
Yale University Press, $35, 273 pp.

Dieter Helm is an Oxford economist who has made a specialty of energy policy. A strong advocate for reducing emissions, he has been a participant at nearly all the international attempts to fashion responses to climate change. His book is scathing on the lack of progress, but his ire is directed as much at green politicians and advocates as at the Know-Nothings and deniers.

To begin with, Helm believes that climate-change scientists have damaged their case by pretending to more certainty than their models can support. The earth is clearly warming, a trend that correlates well with the increase of atmospheric carbon. But the earth has warmed and cooled dramatically in other eras, not always with visible carbon fluctuations. Since the sun is such a dynamic star, there is no simple way to separate out causes and effects. Helm believes that long-term climate outcomes caused by current trends could range from mildly disruptive to absolutely catastrophic, and that the chance of a truly awful outcome is high enough to warrant concerted action.

In Helm’s view, virtually all emission reduction in the developed countries has been a sham. The Kyoto protocols focused on reducing the production of emissions, in which Europe, and now even the United States, appear to have made real progress. But those same countries have all the while been increasing their consumption of carbon...

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About the Author

Charles R. Morris, a Commonweal columnist, is the author of The Two Trillion Dollar Meltdown (Public Affairs), among other books, and is a fellow at the Century Foundation.