Conservatives Who Think Seriously About the Planet

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJun 5, 2012 7:33 PM


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Last month, in several exchanges that pivoted off this post, Scott Denning, a climate scientist at Colorado State University, observed:

There is an inexcusable silence from the political right about how to provide energy for 10 times as many people as we do today (almost all in China and India), without quadrupling CO2 for thousands of years to come. Listening to the public conversation, it seems the best our culture can come up with are cap-and-trade systems or ineffective industrial subsidies. Where is the intellectual right? Where are Heritage or American Enterprise [Institute], or real economists or political scientists? If free-market thinkers restrict themselves to unpublishable blog posts on science, they leave the policy debate to the left. As somebody who believes the next industrial revolution will be easier if we repeat the success of the last one, I find the total silence of the right to be inexcusable.

In another comment on that post, Denning also said (rather sweepingly):

The political left is arguing that we need to abandon capitalism and consumption to solve this problem! What's missing is a set of careful and reasoned market-based solutions from the right. Instead we get vacuous statements that there is no problem to be solved.

This strikes me as a reasonable challenge that Jonathan Adler rises to meet in his recent Atlantic post titled, "A Conservative's Approach to Combating Climate Change." Adler, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University, says his "political leanings are most definitely right-of-center." He begins:

No environmental issue is more polarizing than global climate change. Many on the left fear increases in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases threaten an environmental apocalypse while many on the right believe anthropogenic global warming is much ado about nothing and, at worst, a hoax. Both sides pretend as if the climate policy debate is, first and foremost, about science, rather than policy. This is not so. There is substantial uncertainty about the scope, scale, and consequences of anthropogenic warming, and will be for some time, but this is not sufficient justification for ignoring global warming or pretending that climate change is not a serious problem.

It would be interesting to gauge the reaction to this from conservatives who are engaged on some level with climate change. Moreover, would they agree with Adler when he says in the next paragraph that there "is sufficient evidence that global warming is a serious environmental concern"? If so, then the debate would move forward to to a discussion, as Adler puts it, of policies "that will make it cheaper and easier to adopt low-carbon technologies." He goes on to suggest four ways to do this: 1) Prizes for technology innovation; 2) Reduce regulatory barriers to alternative technologies (such wind power); 3) Institute a carbon neutral tax; and 4) Begin adaptation to climate change that is already "hard-wired into the system." At Grist, even David Roberts, the lefty climate combatant, was moved to write that Adler

makes an eloquent, principled case for the simple notion that "embrace of limited government principles need not entail the denial of environmental claims." Conservatives could, if they wanted, spend their time arguing for their preferred solutions rather than denying scientific results.

He went on to say:

It's interesting, intellectually, that there's a history of green moderation in the [Republican] party; that there's a conceptual space where titular conservative principles overlap with climate protection.

On that note, I happen to be participating in an event today at the American Enterprise Institute called, "How to think seriously about the planet: The case for environmental conservatism." (Don't anyone jump to conclusions. I'm someone who is more likely to pick up the latest issue of Mother Jones than The National Review.) That said, I'm also a critic of dogma, extremist rhetoric and uncompromising partisanship, so I dish it out to all sides (as regular readers know). The title of the AEI event comes from Roger Scruton's new book, which will be the topic of discussion. Scruton's book is lucid, well argued, and very much worth reading for those those interested in engaging with conservatives on environmental issues. I'll have more to say about the book and the event in a follow-up post tomorrow.

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