September 18, 2014

What Can Conservatives Do About Climate Change?

Assuming for the sake of argument the climate is changing, there is a free market response.

Climate change is clearly a prime issue for Democrats who want to increase government power and reach. “The science is settled,” they insist, even as it’s apparent to those willing to look that the science is not settled at all. Undeterred, Democrats slander “deniers” and demand we all submit to the latest whims of the Environmental Protection Agency. But assuming for the sake of argument the climate is changing, is there a conservative response that would account for it without giving in to leftist demands?

To ask the question is almost to answer it. Yes, conservatives can address the environment without selling out to the other side of the political aisle.

Few deny that climate change is a real feature of the planet we inhabit. What we do deny is that man-made greenhouse gases are the sole cause, or that top-down government control is the only way to address it. Control is the true creed of ecofascists, and it’s why they bang on their highchairs so vociferously about the science as justification.

Climate alarmists make some assumptions that belie the anti-capitalist roots of their environmentalism. Writing in The Atlantic, historian Jeremy Caradonna elucidates: “The stock narrative of the Industrial Revolution is one of moral and economic progress. Indeed, economic progress is cast as moral progress.” He continues scornfully, “This narrative remains today an ingrained operating principle that propels us in a seemingly unstoppable way toward more growth and more technology, because the assumption is that these things are ultimately beneficial for humanity.”

Well, let’s see. Among other things, the Industrial Revolution and accompanying advances eased poverty by making goods and services more affordable (just think of all the comforts and conveniences the poor in the U.S. have today) and dramatically increased life expectancy (which leftists see as a problem). Those things are by no means utopian, nor did they come without cost, but they seem to us “ultimately beneficial.” Certainly beneficial enough to oppose self-interested bureaucrats and politicos who would degrade these advances in the name of questionable science.

So, what is a conservative approach? More specifically, how do we continue supporting an ever-burgeoning human population with growing energy needs while stewarding the planet?

James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute asserts, “[H]umans have a poor record of understanding risk in complex systems, full of interdependencies, feedback loops, and nonlinear responses. Perhaps humility and caution and consideration are warranted. Doing nothing about climate change, I would argue, is a one-way, all-or-nothing bet with huge potential downside.”

In a later post, Pethokoukis added, “[T]he choice doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing bet between (a) doing nothing about carbon emissions and (b) embracing a low-energy future of scarcity and stagnation. Rather, the challenge is creating a high-growth, high-abundance, high-energy future for mankind that minimizes the risk of a dangerous climatic shock.”

We would put it this way: The free market should put forth the best ideas for energy production with the goal of getting the most out of both conservation and wealth generation. Government policy should foster innovation rather than picking winners and losers through political favoritism and cronyism. The current system of heavily regulating some industries while lavishly subsidizing others is antithetical to a market-driven economy, and it’s no way to move forward.

Columnist David Harsanyi writes, “I suppose it makes me a technoutopian to trust that we can adapt and create ways to deal with whatever consequences – and obviously there are consequences – a thriving modern world drops on us. Historically speaking, though, would it have been better for humanity to avoid an ‘Age of Pollution’ and wallow in a miserable pre-Industrial Age, where poverty, death, disease and violence, were far more prevalent in our short miserable lives? Or would we have chosen global warming? I think the latter. And I think we’d do it again.” Think about that the next time Al Gore touches down in his private jet to tell you to quit driving your SUV.

Many people making many little decisions leads to much better and far faster results than one or a few making big decisions. And the risk of many “bad” little decisions is far less severe and far more recoverable than one or a few big bad decisions.

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