Yielding the Moral High Ground — Part I

In recent years, conservatives have mastered the art of hijacking morality. They have positioned themselves as the champions of family values, faith and good old-fashioned patriotism. But on what some regard as the moral issue of our time, the party’s presidential candidates are turning their backs.

That issue is global warming.

Al Gore is not the only prominent leader who considers climate change a moral issue. Three years ago, the National Association of Evangelicals issued its Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility.” It reads in part:

We affirm that God-given dominion is a sacred responsibility to steward the earth and not a license to abuse the creation of which we are a part. Because clean air, pure water, and adequate resources are crucial to public health and civic order, government has an obligation to protect its citizens from the effects of environmental degradation. At about the same time, Christianity Today, an influential evangelical magazine, opined that “Christians should make it clear to governments and businesses that we are willing to adapt our lifestyles and support steps towards changes that protect our environment.”

The magazine endorsed the bipartisan global warming bill co-sponsored by Senators Joe Lieberman (I/D CT) and John McCain (R-AZ).

Yet, the other Republican presidential candidates are keeping their distance from the issue as though it is their weird Aunt Ethel with halitosis.


For those who believe that global warming transcends parties, there was a momentary glimmer of hope on Dec. 11 when, on the CBS Evening News, Katie Couric asked five of the GOP candidates point-blank whether they think climate change is overblown. Only Fred Thompson retreated into full waffle, saying we need more research.

Mitt Romney answered, “I think the risks of climate change are real…And I think human activity is contributing to it.”

Rudy Giuliani answered, “There is global warming. Human beings are contributing to it.”

Mike Huckabee said, “I don’t know…. But here’s one thing I do know, that we ought to not let this become this big political football and point of argument. We all ought to agree that we live on this planet as guests. I think Republicans have made a big mistake by not being more on the forefront of conservationism.”

McCain showed he still is capable of straight-talk: “I have been to Greenland, I have been to the South Pole. I’ve been to the Arctic and I know it’s real,” he said. “I’ve been involved in this effort for many years. And we’ve got to act. And unfortunately, we have not acted either as a federal government or a Congress.”

Why not, Couric asked him.

“Special interests,” McCain replied. “It’s the special interests. It’s the utility companies and the petroleum companies and other special interests. They’re the ones that have blocked progress in the Congress of the United States and the administration.”

The climate-action community was atwitter with hope after the Couric interviews. But it didn’t last long. The next night in their televised debate in Iowa, with their base watching, the Republican candidates followed Thompson’s lead and slipped back into silence. As CNN reported:

When asked to raise their hands if they believed global climate change is a serious threat and caused by human activity, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson said he wasn’t “doing hand shows today.” Other candidates agreed. Thompson asked if he could answer the question instead, but was told no.

This was largely the same group that had no trouble with a show of hands last May when they were asked which of them do not believe in evolution.

While most of the Democrat candidates have issued fairly detailed and thoughtful position papers on climate change, most of the Republicans have not. Terry Tamminen, the policy expert who helped Republican governors Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Charlie Crist of Florida design the most aggressive climate action plans in the nation, has started grading the candidates on their positions. By his reckoning, six of the Democrats have earned A’s or B’s, but all of the Republicans — even McCain — have “incompletes.”

Part II will look at why conservatives should share ownership of this issue.

— Bill B.

6 Responses to Yielding the Moral High Ground — Part I

  1. Beefeater says:

    Pat Sajak, noted non-scientist like AlGore, asks the question about the “religious” nature of the “Global Warming” alarmists.

    How about some answers?

    Man-Made Global Warming: 10 Questions

    The subject of man-made global warming is almost impossible to discuss without a descent into virulent name-calling (especially on the Internet, where anonymity breeds a special kind of vicious reaction to almost any social or political question), but I’ll try anyway. I consider myself to be relatively well-read on the matter, and I’ve still come down on the skeptical side, because there are aspects of the issue that don’t make a lot of sense to me. Though I confess to have written none-too-reverentially on the subject, I want to try to put all that aside and ask ten serious questions to which I have been unable to find definitive answers:

    1. What is the perfect temperature?

    If we are to embark on a lifestyle-altering quest to lower the temperature (or at least minimize its rise), what is our goal? I don’t ask this flippantly. Can we demonstrate that one setting on the global thermostat is preferable over another? If so, what is it, and how do we get there? And, once there, how do we maintain it? Will we ever have to “heat things up” again if it drops below that point?

    2. Just what is the average temperature of the earth?

    At any one time there are temperature extremes all over the planet. How do we come up with an average, and how do those variations fit in with our desire to slow global warming?

    3. What factors have led to global warming in the past, and how do we know they aren’t the causes of the current warming trend?

    Again, I don’t ask this in a judgmental way. There is no argument that warming cycles (or cooling, for that matter) have been a part of earth’s history. Why are we so sure this one is different?

    4. Why is there such a strong effort to stifle discussion and dissent?

    I’m always troubled by arguments that begin, “Everybody agrees…” or “Everyone knows…” In fact, there is a good deal of dissent in the scientific world about the theory of man-made global warming. A large (and growing) segment of those who study such things are questioning some of the basic premises of the theory. Why should there be anything wrong with that? Again, this is a big deal, and we should have the best information and opinion from the best minds.

    5. Why are there such dramatically different warnings about the effects of man-made global warming?

    Predictions of 20-foot rises in ocean levels have given way to talk of a few inches over time. In many cases, those predictions are less than the rises of the past few centuries. Whatever the case, why the scare tactics?

    6. Are there potential benefits to global warming?

    Again, I don’t ask this mockingly. Would a warmer climate in some areas actually improve living conditions? Would such improvement (health, crop production, lifestyle) balance any negative impact from the phenomenon?

    7. Should such drastic changes in public policy be based on a “what if?” proposition?

    There are some who say we can’t afford to wait, and, even if there’s some doubt, we should move ahead with altering the way we live. While there are good arguments for changing some of our environmental policies, should they be based on “what it?”

    8. What will be the impact on the people of the world if we change the way we live based on man-made global warming concerns?

    Nothing happens in a vacuum; there are always unintended consequences to our actions. For example, if we were to dramatically reduce our need for international oil, what happens to the economies of the Middle East and the populations that rely on oil income? There are thousands of other implications, some good and some bad. What are they? Shouldn’t we be thinking about them and talking about them?

    9. How will we measure our successes?

    Is the measuring stick going to be temperature, sea level, number of annual hurricanes, rainfall, or a combination of all those things? Again, do we have a goal in mind? What happens when we get there?

    10. How has this movement gained such momentum?

    We’ve faced environmental issues throughout our history, but it’s difficult to remember one which has gained such “status” in such a short time. To a skeptic, there seems to be a religious fervor that makes one wary. A gradual “ramping down” of the dire predictions has not led to a diminution of the doomsday rhetoric. Are these warning signs that the movement has become more of an activist cause than a scientific reality?

    Just asking.

  2. Joe says:

    Pat Sajak? Are you kidding me? You would compare him to the former V.P. and Nobel Laureate? Not!

    If you’ve read my blog from the beginning, and the relevant links to studies by IPCC, NASA and others, then all those questions have long since been answered.

  3. Beefeater says:

    Joe, I noted that like AlGore, Sajak is not a scientist either. Gore won his awards for a slide show based on other peoples theories. Being a former V.P. and a Nobel Laureat doesn’t bestow any more wisdom on Gore than being a game show host. Remember, Al won The peace prize, not a scientific prize at all.

  4. Joe,

    McCain is not a maverick, nor is he my idea of a politician (have you seen the way he jumps around the political spectrum to get ahead, first going centrist to win the general in 2000, then going hard-right to restore his credibility with the Republican base? pure political maneuvering) but I have to give him points for mentioning the oil companies. Surely Bush wouldn’t answer a question asked about that.

    Yesterday the first questioner brought up the poll of Iraqis that showed that all three sectarian groups in Iraq think American troops are the problem, and this poll was arranged by the US Military. Bush simply did not mention it in his answer. It was, to him, unasked.

  5. Earl Killian says:

    I’ll take a shot at some of Pat Sajak’s questions, since I believe they are rather simple to address. In many cases the questions are not really proper questions at all, but rhetorical devices. If Pat Sajak were really interested in answers, he would ask more appropriate questions.
    1. This is the wrong question to ask. The author’s purpose in asking it is rhetorical and attempts to set up a false dichotomy, viz. that mankind should either (1) pick a temperature and work toward it, or (2) if no perfect temperature can be decided upon, let temperature drift without any controls whatsoever (be a completely free variable). Besides having far more choices than this, it ignores the fact that the speed of change is an extremely important variable. Were one to try to pick an appropriate temperature zone, it would likely be the one where the current set of species on Earth evolved, since moves out of this zone will likely wipe out species. Very slow change in the zone range is not as problematic as suddenly moving to a zone with little overlap with the previous zone (as we have done).
    2. This is well documented in Scientific journal articles. Note that average temperature is just a short-hand for discussion. Actual temperatures vary with location. Scientists know this, but average temperature is still a convenient summary for discussion.
    3. This question is addressed in numerous Scientific journal articles;
    the subject is far too complex to answer in a blog.
    4. This question presumes things that are not true, so it is not really an appropriate question (somewhat like the canonical wife beating question).
    5. The particular point about sea level rise is easy to answer; the broader question is not well framed. For sea level rise, there are answers that scientists are so confident to give based on the expansion of water with temperature and very simple melting processes. Then there are processes that are complex, and so no answer can be given with complete confidence. Some Scientists ignore the complex processes completely, and other try to incorporate them, e.g. by not trying to predict them in detail, but looking to past climate changes and their effect (and they are usually careful to phrase their answers in this way). Since the complex processes lead to much larger seal level rises than the simple processes, ignoring them altogether is not wise, from a public-policy point of view.
    6. Most changes have pros and cons. This is one reason that the IPCC spent a lot of time looking at what the effects might be. The cons seem dramatically worse than the pros. If you are interested in details, read the IPCC report.
    7. I would turn this question around and ask whether our public policy should be to blindly and grossly perturb complex systems. Past civilizations have done this and failed as a result. That is what our civilization has already done with climate. In the last three decades we have become less and less blind about what we have done and are likely to do. We have weighed the pros and cons, and found that we would be better off perturbing it much less.
    8. Most likely living conditions will be significantly improved.
    9. Success is measured by the sustainability of our lifestyle. D.F.H.King wrote a book titled “Farmers of Forty Centuries” about civilizations that had farmed the same land for 4000 years. They evolved such lifestyles, but risked departing from them at any time. Our civilization has departed from a sustainable path. We now have Science to help us get back onto a sustainable path and stay on it. We know we’ve succeeded if 4000 years from now there is no end in sight for the next million.
    10. The premise of this question is not true.

  6. Jay Alt says:

    1. Yes it is the wrong question but that is why it was posed. The points are classic Lomborgese – a recently marketed and unhealthy Danish bologna.

    The IPCC adopted a rational goal decades ago – to avoid dangerous human-induced climate change. Where that level lies is something the Bush Administration stubbornly refuses to ever discuss, (most recently in Bali) much less act on. In contrast, the EU and the rest of the world accepts a scientifically-based goal to keep the global temperature rise from exceeding 2C.

    In reality we aren’t dialing thermostats and will be fortunate stop the process, much less fine-tune it. A few degrees here or there doesn’t sound like much, given daily weather variations. But it is a big deal to local climates.

    Australia has seen an average increase of 0.9 C since 1950. They’re in the midst of a 6 year drought. Rivers are drying up, livestock die, crops are meager while farmers go broke and blow their brains out. The Australian govt has ignored AGW almost as vigorously as ours. But no longer, they are in trouble and likely to experience more. (see name/website link)