Will U.S. conservatives usher in the era of permanently big government?
This decade will largely determine whether humanity gets on the path to a low-carbon economy fast enough to avert catastrophic climate change. And the single biggest obstacle to action today is the same as it’s been for two decades — anti-science conservatives.
As Revkin explained in 2008 piece about a major conference of disinformers, “The one thing all the attendees seem to share is a deep dislike for mandatory restrictions on greenhouse gases.” What unites these people is their desire to delay or stop action to cut GHGs, not any one particular view on the climate (see Krauthammer, Part 2: The real reason conservatives don’t believe in climate science).
It is nearly impossible to win an argument with anti-government conservatives and libertarians. Yes, you can try to point out all the great things the government has done (the Internet, anyone?) and try to point out that they invariably support government-led action for military security, and, of course, government subsidies and regulations to promote energy security, at least as it applies to oil industry and nuclear energy pork.
I have made a different argument in my book and on this blog “” if you hate government intrusion into people’s lives, you’d better stop catastrophic global warming, because nothing drives a country more towards activist government than scarcity and deprivation. Small, relatively unintrusive democratic government works best when there is abundance and prosperity, so people and cities and states and countries aren’t fighting over critical necessities and other matters of life and death (see “Veterans Day, 2029“).
Thus the conservatives who oppose strong GHG reductions — who say humanity’s best strategy is just to try to adapt to climate change — are best labeled “big government conservatives.” Adaptatation requires very, very big government “” incomprehensibly bigger and more expensive government than prevention does (see “Scientists find “net present value of climate change impacts” of $1240 TRILLION on current emissions path, making mitigation to under 450 ppm a must“).
If we allow CO2 concentrations to significantly exceed 450 ppm, as would be inevitable if we follow the do-nothing policies proposed by the anti-science crowd, then we will be moving to decades and decades of scarcity, where we have billions more people but much less potable water, food, energy, and arable land (see “Intro to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water“). “Big” government doesn’t adequately describe that future. Only “huge” government can relocate millions of citizens, build massive levees, ration crucial resources like water and arable land, mandate harsh and rapid reductions in certain kinds of energy — all of which will be inevitable if we don’t quickly get on the sustainable path to below 450 ppm but instead stay on the long painful journey to 800 to 1000 ppm. And that huge government could last for centuries (see NOAA stunner: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe).
Two long-time colleagues in the climate arena, Auden Schendler and Mark Trexler make a related argument in a recent post on Grist,”The coming climate panic?” which I reprint below: