Ross Douthat, the young conservative taking Bill Kristol’s spot as a New York Times op-ed writer, heralds the climate policy work of Jim Manzi, a software executive who is now a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, specializing in “the economics of energy & climate change.” Douthat described Manzi’s 2007 National Review piece “Game Plan” as “one of the smartest right-of-center policy manifestos I’ve read in a long time”:
Everyone should read it: Conservatives will find a sensible blueprint for moving from the denialist fringe to the political mainstream, and liberals will get a taste of how a wised-up, heads-out-of-the-sand Right could kick their ass on the issue.
Manzi’s “wised-up,” “sensible blueprint” boils down to the claim that emissions don’t need to be reduced because the risk of global warming is so uncertain:
Global warming is a real risk, but its impact over the next century could plausibly range from negligible to severe. . . Adaptation should take center stage, as it is by far the most cost-effective means of addressing climate risk. We can reduce the climate impact of carbon that is emitted, often using such simple techniques as planting more trees or using more reflective paint.
To be fair, Manzi wrote this piece in early 2007, before Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report was completed:
Members of the panel said their review of the data led them to conclude as a group and individually that reductions in greenhouse gases had to start immediately to avert a global climate disaster, which could leave island states submerged and abandoned, African crop yields down by 50 percent, and cause a 5 percent decrease in global gross domestic product.
Following the IPCC’s grim consensus assessment, new scientific research found that warming oceans are strengthening hurricanes and Arctic sea ice loss predicted by the IPCC to happen by 2050 may instead occur within four or five years, among hundreds of other portents of disaster ahead, including unprecedented floods, droughts, wildfires, and storms across the globe. If Manzi’s head really is “out of the sand,” one might think his policy recommendations would reflect the new evidence. However, Manzi’s plan remains to “just say no” to restricting emissions, explaining that “We can win the cap-and-trade fight” in the December 2008 National Review:
Even if one accepts the scientific and economic projections used by cap-and-trade advocates, the costs of restricting emissions can’t be justified based on the benefits that it is expected to provide. This is why getting drawn into a discussion of how to improve cap-and-trade is a strategic error. The Republican reaction should be to “just say no.”
Douthat may “generate a conservative column that progressives will have reason to read and take seriously,” as our colleague Matt Yglesias argues. He may be “funny and smart and sharp,” as Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal calls him. Perhaps “his writing steers away from partisanship,” as Times writer Richard Perez-Pena claims, despite his authorship of “Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream.” But if Douthat continues to think that Manzi — someone without an academic background in economics, energy, or climate change — is a “kick ass” expert, it will be hard to take him seriously on the issue of global warming.