Conservatives, Caution, Conference, Carbon Tax, Cap -n- Trade, Complementary, Compliments, and Criticisms.
This week, Duke University is hosting a conference for conservative opinion on Climate Change (née global warming). Specifically, what to do about it (which implies the good news that at least these conservative conference-goers admit there is global warming (and grudgingly, human-induced global warming)).
Jonathan Adler is an environmentalist and a major contributor to the libertarian/conservative legal blog The Volokh Conspiracy. He is blogging about the conference, and you can read all about it here: Dispatches from the Duke conference on “Conservative Visions of Our Environmental future.”
So as my readers know, I am a climate scientist and a liberal. However, I object keenly to thinking any one side has all the answers, and I object to being so insulated that one becomes stupid through their bias to one side. So I read “Dispatches” with enthusiasm and an open mind, and I can say that a really excellent point (though not exclusive to conservatives) is What can we do about it? More to the point, Is the problem of dealing with climate change outside our current technological abilities? Another excellent point, (that I think conservatives do a much better job of bringing up) is, Do fixes end up throwing the economic baby out with the bathwater, rendering the whole issue disastrous?
In a bizarre and ironic way, liberals and conservatives are concerned about something quite similar: We won’t have any society if we don’t stop climate change/We won’t have any society if we do stop climate change.
Some of the usual suspects are at the conference: The Heritage Foundation, and perennial gadfly deniers the Heartland Institute (represented by a spin-off called the R Street Institute – apparently, according to Adler, there was contention in the ranks after a stupid billboard comparing global warming believers to the Unabomber, which led to the “less crazy” spinning off a new institute.)
The big thing for conservatives and libertarians alike is to let market forces combat climate change, and their favorite player is a carbon tax. It’s a sad confession to make (being keenly interested in combating climate change) but I’m not really clear on the difference between carbon tax and capNtrade. But here is where I think wise people separate themselves from the jabbering masses – I want to listen and learn from all sides. One of my main complaints about teaching global warming is that people refuse to acknowledge experts: You don’t have to go out and collect, repair, control, and analyze climate data to come up with your own conclusion, just like you don’t have to go to HVAC school to learn how to repair your air conditioner, you rely on experts, and I am comfortable assuming the conservative policy thinkers are more expert than me in economic theory; if they prefer a carbon tax… then okay!
Another thing about conservatism (the good kind, not the whacko fundamentalist kind) is that it is cautious. Approaching major policy decisions with caution is a good thing, (why… it’s the better part of valor). If implementing sweeping and austere global changes to energy use and economics doesn’t solve global warming then we are stuck with two(!) problems: climate change AND an economic crisis.
But enough with the compliments, now for some criticisms. What about this “conservative vision” in the conference title? Are they proposing to be complementary with a “liberal vision”? Or are they proposing to replace the so-called liberal vision? When it comes to fouling our own nest, should there really be a political divide? And does this mean that if there is a “liberal vision” for environmentalism, that liberals are smarter, because they got the gist of the problem quicker? (Hey you opened the door, not me).
If you read the dispatch linked above you will see that, happily, the conservative speakers begin by conceding that human-induced climate change is occurring. Thank you. FINALLY. However, I submit this is a day late and a dollar short. Just as I said above, there are experts and we need to defer to them – there is no way to know All. I hate the oft-used protest against “Appeals to Authority.” My goodness, do not defer to the authority of your gastroenterologist when s/he wants to give you a colonoscopy. Your plumber knows pipes and charges half as much. Sheesh.
Anyway, here is a taste of the conference, and I think it shows how intelligent and reasonable people can work together in intelligent, reasonable ways (Note, I don’t agree with everything said):
Former Congressman Bob Inglis (R-SC), President of the Energy & Enterprise Initiative, delivered the conference keynote. He opened suggesting that the reason conservatives are not more active in environmental policy debates is because many conservatives don’t think they have answers to many environmental problems (and there is a tendency to deny the existence of problems that one’s political agenda cannot solve). Since leaving Congress, Inglis has sought to convince conservatives that conservative principles can provide solutions to serious environmental problems. According to Inglis, if it’s not profitable, then it is not sustainable, so the key to solving environmental problems is to encourage things that can be profitable. Although he said he’s more comfortable with government interventions than some on the libertarian right, Inglis argued muscular free enterprise has greater potential than liberal altruism or government mandates.
The primary thrust of Inglis’ talk was the need for carbon pricing. Inglis argued that conservatives believe in accountability, that regulatory uncertainty discourages investment and economic growth, and that conservatives have always argued for tax reform and creating sound economic incentives. For these reasons, Inglis argued (quoting Arthur Laffer), that it makes more sense to tax carbon emissions than income