Only one exercise in Washington surpasses the fun of speculating on what may happen next week in Copenhagen: the rush to get in a final word before the climate conference starts.
Washington think tanks and lobbying groups are putting on a full-court press this week to lower expectations for the summit or to raise them, to praise Obama for planning to attend or to shame him for not showing up at the right time, to preemptively trash treaty provisions that haven't even been written yet or to applaud world leaders for getting together no matter what the outcome (and all of this for the benefit of reporters, who these days haven't got the money to go see what happens in Denmark).
And all that is to say nothing of the late-breaking "climategate."
This morning alone the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation held a conference skeptically titled "Wonderful Copenhagen?"; the American Enterprise Institute hosted a teleconference to highlight climate plotlines the "mainstream media" have skirted, and the United States Climate Action Partnership held a call and "webinar" to tout new economic study findings on how American gross domestic product would still flourish under cap-and-trade legislation. This follows yesterday's pre-COP15 briefing by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and the release of a report from the Endangered Species Coalition on 10 American flora and fauna likely to die out if we do nothing.
A global event as complex as the negotiations officials will undertake (but not complete) in Copenhagen has a little intrigue for everyone, from business interests to China watchers to green groups and scientific skeptics. That last camp recently received what has been embraced as an early Christmas gift: A hacker two weeks ago filched from computers at the Climate Research Unit at the British University of East Anglia thousands of e-mails that skeptics say show more dissension about the science behind manmade climate change than the scientists themselves have let on.
Skeptics are framing "climategate" as a game-changer going into Copenhagen, suggesting the e-mails undercut the very premise of the whole event - that the Earth is warming and that people are responsible for it. The American Enterprise Institute's Ken Green rattled off today no less than half a dozen concerns at the heart of the scandal, including data manipulation, subversion of the peer review process and even tax evasion in the routing of research funding.
"This is going to continue to grow," Green said on the AEI call, "even though much of the mainstream media, including Andy Revkin, who is mentioned in many of these e-mails, is trying to use the old Jedi mind trick saying 'This is not what you're looking for, you can move along now.'"
"I suspect much like the affair with Van Jones," he added, "the mainstream media sooner or later is going to have to cover this in a serious way."
Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said she isn't surprised by the 11th-hour attempts to undermine the conference.
"I think the closer you get to actually doing something about this problem," she said, "the more shrill, the more dogmatic the skeptics become because they're trying their hardest to stand in the front of a train, essentially."
The U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a business and environmental alliance that has lobbied for cap-and-trade legislation, took another tack, releasing today economic analysis the group says illustrates that addressing the climate won't, in fact, damage economic growth — a concern of other skeptics who have targeted the economic what-ifs of climate change more than the science behind it.
USCAP analyzed future economic growth under the type of cap-and-trade system the group is championing in its policy recommendations, and compared it with modeling of the economy without such legislation. Sans cap-and-trade, the model suggested, the American GDP would continue to grow toward $22.3 trillion by January of 2030. And with cap-and-trade?
The economy would arrive at that same point two to four months later.
"The difference is really imperceptible," said Janet Peace, the vice president for markets and business strategy with the Pew Center, who worked on the USCAP analysis.
Of course, it is as easy to argue with economic modeling as it is climate science. But there are still a few more days to do that before Dec. 7.
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