Jon Huntsman's callout of Texas Governor Rick Perry's controversial statements on evolution and climate change has garnered much attention and highlighted what Andrew Revkin at Dot Earth calls "the fundamental Republican science problem." Meanwhile, in a similar vein, but flying under the radar of the national media, another Republican governor has recently said Huntsman-like things about climate change that have been met with disapproval by conservatives. Jonathan Adler, a popular conservative blogger, has taken note of this episode and offers an incisive critique that speaks to the litmus test pathology afflicting the Republican party:
Until last week, many conservatives considered New Jersey Governor Chris Christie a hero. Some were even clamoring for him to enter the presidential race. Now, however, some of the same conservatives are branding him a heretic, even as he embraces policy decisions they support. What's going on? Last week, Christie vetoed legislation that would have required New Jersey to remain in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a multi-state agreement to control greenhouse gas emissions through a regional cap-and-trade program. The bill was an effort to overturn Christie's decision earlier this year to withdraw from the program. Given conservative opposition to greenhouse gas emission controls, the veto should have been something to cheer, right? Nope. The problem, according to some conservatives, is that Christie accompanied his veto with a statement acknowledging that human activity is contributing to global climate change. Specifically, Christie explained that his original decision to withdraw from RGGI was not based upon any "quarrel" with the science: "While I acknowledge that the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are increasing, that climate change is real, that human activity plays a role in these changes and that these changes are impacting our state, I simply disagree that RGGI is an effective mechanism for addressing global warming." As Christie explained, RGGI is based upon faulty economic assumptions and "does nothing more than impose a tax on electricity" for no real environmental benefit. As he noted, "To be effective, greenhouse gas emissions must be addressed on a national and international scale." Although Christie adopted the desired policy "” withdrawing from RGGI "” someconservativesareaghast that he would acknowledge a human contribution to global warming. According to one, this makes Christie "Part RINO. Part man. Only more RINO than man." ["RINO" as in "Republican in Name Only."] Those attacking Christie are suggesting there is only one politically acceptable position on climate science "” that one's ideological bona fides are to be determined by one's scientific beliefs, and not simply one's policy preferences. This is a problem on multiple levels. Among other things, it leads conservatives to embrace an anti-scientific know-nothingism whereby scientific claims are to be evaluated not by scientific evidence but their political implications. Thus climate science must be attacked because it provides a too ready justification for government regulation. This is the same reason some conservatives attack evolution "” they fear it undermines religious belief "” and it is just as wrong.
If enough conservatives speak up like this, they just might be able to lance the boil before it makes their party grotesque to the general electorate. UPDATE: From libertarian Ronald Bailey:
Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan Adler has a sharp analysis over at the Volokh Conspiracy of what might be called Republican "Climate Change Derangement Syndrome."
Where the syndrome is most acute.