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“They Have No Evidence”: How Climate Change Ate Conservatism’s Smartest Thinkers

Climate change remains perhaps the single largest policy weakness of the Republican Party, and that’s saying a lot. Thus, since the publication of the new “reform conservatism” book, the reformers have gotten a lot of flak for almost totally ignoring the subject.

Ross Douthat grappled yesterday with the issue, arguing that reform conservatives have been given short shrift to their attention on climate change, but that he’s basically okay with doing nothing about the problem. Here’s the conclusion:

These answers are obviously subject to revision — trends can change, risks can increase, cost-benefit calculations can be altered — but for now they’re what reform conservatism offers on this issue. We could be wrong; indeed, we could be badly wrong, in which case we’ll deserve to be judged harshly for misplacing priorities in the face of real perils, real threats. But on the evidence available [at] the moment, I’m willing to argue that we have our priorities in order, and the other side’s allegedly forward-looking agenda does not. [The New York Times]

There are two problems with this. Just like Clive Crook, Will Wilkinson, and Walter Russell Mead, Douthat doesn’t seriously engage with the evidence. Earlier in the article, he constructs a lengthy Rube Goldberg analogy to “insurance” salesmanship to cast doubt on every portion of the climate hawk case, but he doesn’t take the obvious next step of trying to work through what that means on a quantitative basis.

Douthat implies that based on his careful read of the evidence, world society can take more carbon dioxide than the greens say. But he doesn’t even gesture at how much more. Is the international agreement that warming should be limited to 2 degrees too low? If so, what’s a good limit? If climate sensitivity measurements are lower than we thought (and they almost certainly aren’t), how much lower should we assume?

Without numbers, Douthat’s case is nothing more than vague handwaving that reads very much like he has cherry-picked a bunch of disconnected fluff to justify doing nothing. Because even if we grant all his assumptions about climate sensitivity and probable dangers of warming, it changes little about the climate hawk case, which depends critically on how fast we’re emitting carbon dioxide. Saying we can chance 3 to 4 degrees of warming and that sensitivity is much lower than previously thought might give us enough space to push CO2 concentrations up to 5-600 ppm or so. But right now we’re barreling towards 1000 ppm and beyond.

This is the major problem with how the vast majority of reform conservatives think about climate change (with a few exceptions). They neither articulate a clear view of what kind of climate goals they would prefer nor demonstrate how their favorite policies would get us there. Instead, like Douthat, the few conservatives who even talk about climate (like Reihan Salam and Ramesh Ponnuru, who he mentions) are constantly saying whatever policy is on deck at the moment is no good. It’s too inefficient; it’s too expensive; it’s trampling on democracy; we should be doing technology instead, etc, etc.

These folks may well be arguing in good faith for their best policy. But because it has become nearly impossible to legislate anything through the sucking mire of United States institutions, consistent advocacy against every single climate policy amounts to little more than putting a patina of credibility on the denialist views of the Republican majority.


By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, June 27, 2014

June 28, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Climate Science, Republicans | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Interests, Ideology And Climate”: For Republicans, Overcoming Pride And Willful Ignorance Is Hard

There are three things we know about man-made global warming. First, the consequences will be terrible if we don’t take quick action to limit carbon emissions. Second, in pure economic terms the required action shouldn’t be hard to take: emission controls, done right, would probably slow economic growth, but not by much. Third, the politics of action are nonetheless very difficult.

But why is it so hard to act? Is it the power of vested interests?

I’ve been looking into that issue and have come to the somewhat surprising conclusion that it’s not mainly about the vested interests. They do, of course, exist and play an important role; funding from fossil-fuel interests has played a crucial role in sustaining the illusion that climate science is less settled than it is. But the monetary stakes aren’t nearly as big as you might think. What makes rational action on climate so hard is something else — a toxic mix of ideology and anti-intellectualism.

Before I get to that, however, an aside on the economics.

I’ve noted in earlier columns that every even halfway serious study of the economic impact of carbon reductions — including the recent study paid for by the anti-environmental U.S. Chamber of Commerce — finds at most modest costs. Practical experience points in the same direction. Back in the 1980s conservatives claimed that any attempt to limit acid rain would have devastating economic effects; in reality, the cap-and-trade system for sulfur dioxide was highly successful at minimal cost. The Northeastern states have had a cap-and-trade arrangement for carbon since 2009, and so far have seen emissions drop sharply while their economies grew faster than the rest of the country. Environmentalism is not the enemy of economic growth.

But wouldn’t protecting the environment nonetheless impose costs on some sectors and regions? Yes, it would — but not as much as you think.

Consider, in particular, the much-hyped “war on coal.” It’s true that getting serious about global warming means, above all, cutting back on (and eventually eliminating) coal-fired power, which would hurt regions of the country that depend on coal-mining jobs. What’s rarely pointed out is how few such jobs still exist.

Once upon a time King Coal was indeed a major employer: At the end of the 1970s there were more than 250,000 coal miners in America. Since then, however, coal employment has fallen by two-thirds, not because output is down — it’s up, substantially — but because most coal now comes from strip mines that require very few workers. At this point, coal mining accounts for only one-sixteenth of 1 percent of overall U.S. employment; shutting down the whole industry would eliminate fewer jobs than America lost in an average week during the Great Recession of 2007-9.

Or put it this way: The real war on coal, or at least on coal workers, took place a generation ago, waged not by liberal environmentalists but by the coal industry itself. And coal workers lost.

The owners of coal mines and coal-fired power plants do have a financial interest in blocking environmental policy, but even there the special interests don’t look all that big. So why is the opposition to climate policy so intense?

Well, think about global warming from the point of view of someone who grew up taking Ayn Rand seriously, believing that the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest is always good and that government is always the problem, never the solution. Along come some scientists declaring that unrestricted pursuit of self-interest will destroy the world, and that government intervention is the only answer. It doesn’t matter how market-friendly you make the proposed intervention; this is a direct challenge to the libertarian worldview.

And the natural reaction is denial — angry denial. Read or watch any extended debate over climate policy and you’ll be struck by the venom, the sheer rage, of the denialists.

The fact that climate concerns rest on scientific consensus makes things even worse, because it plays into the anti-intellectualism that has always been a powerful force in American life, mainly on the right. It’s not really surprising that so many right-wing politicians and pundits quickly turned to conspiracy theories, to accusations that thousands of researchers around the world were colluding in a gigantic hoax whose real purpose was to justify a big-government power grab. After all, right-wingers never liked or trusted scientists in the first place.

So the real obstacle, as we try to confront global warming, is economic ideology reinforced by hostility to science. In some ways this makes the task easier: we do not, in fact, have to force people to accept large monetary losses. But we do have to overcome pride and willful ignorance, which is hard indeed.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 8, 2014

June 9, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Climate Science, Global Warming | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Anti-Science Party”: It’s Been A Rough Week For Republicans And Their Support For Science

A few years ago, during the race for the Republicans’ 2012 presidential nomination, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) suggested climate science was an elaborate hoax cooked up by greedy scientists. John Weaver, the chief strategist for former Gov. John Huntsman’s campaign, responded with a sensible declaration: “We’re not going to win a national election if we become the anti-science party.”

Three years later, it’s probably too late to worry about whether the GOP is becoming the anti-science party.

In a little-noticed 2012 interview, Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), the front-runner in Montana’s open 2014 Senate race, expressed support for teaching creationism in public schools.

In an interview that aired on November 2, 2012, Sally Mauk, news director for Montana Public Radio, asked Daines, who was then running for Montana’s lone House seat, whether public schools should teach creationism. Daines responded, “What the schools should teach is, as it relates to biology and science is that they have, um, there’s evolution theory, there’s creation theory, and so forth. I think we should teach students to think critically, and teach students that there are evolutionary theories, there’s intelligent-design theories, and allow the students to make up their minds. But I think those kinds of decisions should be decided at the local school board level.” He added, “Personally I’d like to teach my kids both sides of the equation there and let them come up to their own conclusion on it.”

It’s been a rough week for Republicans and their support for science. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), for example, struggled badly to defend his opposition to climate science, only to make matters worse by saying odd things about reproductive science.

And away from Capitol Hill, two GOP Senate candidates said they too have a problem with climate science, while Republicans in the Oklahoma legislature are balking at new science standards because they treat climate change as true.

It’s against this backdrop that the Pew Forum found late last year that the number of self-identified Republican voters who believe in evolutionary biology has dropped considerably in the Obama era.

To reiterate a point we’ve discussed before, none of this is healthy. There are already so many political, policy, and cultural issues that divide partisans; scientific truths don’t have to be among them. And yet, we’re quickly approaching the point – if we haven’t arrived there already – at which science itself is broadly accepted and understood as a “Democratic issue.”

Is it any wonder the Pew Research Center found a few years ago that only 6% of scientists say they support Republican candidates?

Asked to explain the phenomenon, Brigham Young University scientist Barry Bickmore, a onetime Republican convention delegate, told the Salt Lake Tribune last fall, “Scientists just don’t get those people,” referencing Republicans who adhere to party orthodoxy on climate change, evolution, and other hot-button issues. “They [in the GOP] are driving us away, people like me.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 16, 2014

May 18, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Climate Science | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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