If conservatives are concerned about the role of government in deploying climate solutions today, they haven’t even begun to realize the scope of government influence when the severity of climate change catches up to us.
Writing in the Washington Post in 2010, Bracken Hendricks, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, put it this way:
Today’s conservatives would do well to start thinking more like military planners, reexamining the risks inherent in their strategy. If, instead, newly elected Republicans do nothing, they will doom us all to bigger government interventions and a large dose of suffering – a reckless choice that’s anything but conservative.
As Benjamin Franklin famously said: “an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure.”
In a 2006 report, British economist Sir Nicolas Stern concluded that a ton of CO2 damage is worth at least $85, but those emissions can be cut at a cost of roughly $25 per ton. And without cutting those emissions, our business-as-usual scenario could cost the world between 5 percent and 20 percent of GDP in the coming decades.
Given that stark choice, conservatives have a unique opportunity to make a decidedly conservative decision: help deploy solutions today that can keep manage the cost of climate change mitigation and adaptation. If not, the future costs will be considerably higher and the role of government considerably larger.
Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp understands this framing. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed today, Krupp encourages conservatives to stop dismissing the problem and start seriously proposing solutions that can compete/co-exist with those proposed by progressives:
Many conservatives start out as climate skeptics for understandable reasons. To begin with, it’s an issue that’s long been associated with liberal Democrats. We’re all skeptical about issues presented by leaders with whom we normally disagree. Secondly, conservatives naturally insist on extensive evidence when a claim seems to justify more government action.
But one of the hallmarks of modern conservatism is to try to see the world as it is, not as one hopes it would be. Skeptics who make their decisions based on the best available information have long said they would reconsider their conclusions as the facts dictate. And many of them are concluding that the planet is warming in ways that outpace its natural rhythms. In a recent University of Texas poll, 70% of Americans, and 53% of Republicans, accepted the reality of climate change. This is not just a function of the summer’s brutal heat.
…We’ll have a much better shot at developing solutions to our climate and energy problems that are good for our economy if leaders from across the political spectrum get re-engaged in the debate. It is time for conservatives to compete with liberals to devise the best, most cost-effective climate solutions. Solving this challenge will require all of us.
This competitive framing of the issue is an effective approach. Indeed, it’s time for small-government conservatives to stop dismissing or running away from the problem just because they disagree with many of the solutions proposed by those on the left.
Consider this recent admission from Oklahoma Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, one of the most prominent and aggressive global warming deniers in Congress: “I was actually on your side of this issue when I was chairing that committee and I first heard about this. I thought it must be true until I found out what it cost.”
That’s a pretty loaded statement. Inhofe blatantly admits he’s willing to ignore the increasingly dire conclusions of 97 percent of climate scientists — literally threatening civilization as we know it — in order to satisfy his ideological beliefs about the role of government.
This is exactly what’s preventing many American conservatives from playing a constructive role in addressing our greatest planetary challenge.
Former South Carolina GOP Representative Bob Inglis understands the opportunity that conservatives have to positively influence the debate. Last month, Inglis launched a new initiative to develop “conservative solutions to America’s energy and climate challenges.” The initiative has the support of other influential conservatives such as Holtz-Eakin, John McCain’s former economic adviser, and Gregory Mankiw, former chief economist of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers.
Will the voices of these conservatives rise above the ideological noise within the Republican party?
- Real adaptation is as politically tough as real mitigation, but much more expensive and not as effective in reducing future misery: “Real adaptation requires much bigger and far more intrusive government than mitigation. Indeed, if the anti-science ideologues get their way and stop serious mitigation, then the government will inevitably get into the business of telling people where they can and can’t live (can’t let people keep rebuilding in the ever-spreading flood plains or the ever-enlarging areas threatened by sea level rise and DustBowlification) and how they can live (sharp water curtailment in the SW DustBowl, for instance) and possibly what they can eat. Conservative action against climate action now will force big government in coming decades to triage our major coastal cities — Key West and Galveston and probably New Orleans would be unsavable, but what about Miami and Houston?”