Sunday, June 28, 2015

Conservatives and Climate Change


(National Affairs)

The political debate over climate change has long resembled a contest to see which party can discredit itself more. Liberals have seized upon outlandishly improbable climate scenarios to urge drastic and immediate action. Former vice president Al Gore, a leading liberal voice on the subject, has compared global warming to "an asteroid colliding with the Earth and wreaking havoc." "Our food systems, our cities, our people and our very way of life developed within a stable range of climatic conditions on Earth," Gore has written. "Without immediate and decisive action, these favorable conditions on Earth could become a memory if we continue to make the climate crisis worse day after day after day." 

The truth is that the most authoritative, mainstream scientific predictions envision some serious, undesirable changes, but hardly the dystopia of Gore's imagination. Yet, as liberals have yelled that the sky is falling, conservatives have plugged their own ears not only to ludicrous exaggerations, but also to the available facts. Liberal alarmism could be countered with arguments and with constructive policy alternatives to the administrative power grabs that the left prefers. Instead, for years those conservatives with access to the biggest megaphones have announced that the science underlying global warming is somewhere between highly speculative and "the greatest hoax," to quote from the title of a book on the subject by Senator James Inhofe, a Republican with significant influence on climate matters. 

Many more Republicans are uncomfortable making accusations of corruption and conspiracy against so much of the scientific community, but they too have struggled to sustain an untenable position. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, House speaker John Boehner, presidential candidates Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio, and rising star Senator Joni Ernst have all adopted the new talking point on the issue: "I'm not a scientist." This is an attempt to invoke ignorance in order to avoid embarrassment.

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