Anti-science conservatives must be stopped

That’s the title of my new article in Salon. I had proposed “The political fight of the century,” but the editors wanted a stronger headline — and subhead:

Americans must not allow global warming deniers to block the policies needed to avert catastrophic climate change. Our future is at stake.


Now that the relevant science is settled — namely that failing to quickly embrace strong greenhouse gas reduction policies would be the greatest act of self-destruction in human history — the fight to save a livable climate will indeed be the greatest political fight of our times. As the piece concludes:

Conservatives can’t stop the impending catastrophe with anti-government rhetoric. But they can prevent progressives and moderates from stopping it by blocking aggressive climate legislation. Progressives and moderates will need all their political skill and tenacity to overcome the obstructionism of the anti-science, anti-technology conservatives. This is unlike any previous political fight; it is a fight to save the health and well-being of the next 50 generations, a fight to preserve our way of life. Losing is not an option

The article summarizes the current state of conservative anti-science intransigence on climate, which I have discussed at great length (see “Is 450 ppm politically possible? Part 6: What the Boxer-Lieberman-Warner bill debate tells us” and “Krauthammer, Part 2: The real reason conservatives don’t believe in climate science”.) I then describe how I think the next couple of decades will play out, assuming most conservatives continue to press what they are convinced is a rhetorical and political advantage in opposing strong climate legislation:

Conservatives can probably enjoy another decade or so of disregarding the climate science and demagoguing climate legislation. Yes, the weather will become increasingly extreme as we slip closer to permanent changes in the climate. But most of what happens next decade will just be a more frequent and intense version of what happened in the last decade.

Unfortunately for the planet, the next decade is pretty much going to be the last one to reverse course the “easy” way. By easy, I mean deploying clean energy technology at an aggressive pace with a negligible net economic cost, 0.1 percent of GDP per year or less. It’s a strategy that can be deployed largely by the private sector with the help of well-designed government programs and regulatory reforms.

If conservatives block serious action until the 2020s, then the nation and the world will begin a desperate race to avert catastrophe. By then, the world’s carbon dioxide emissions and concentrations will be so high that the relatively easy market-based technology strategy will not be able to stop us from crossing the point of no return, when major amplifying feedbacks kick in and undermine all efforts to avert catastrophe. The most important feedback is probably the melting of the permafrost and tundra, which could release 1,000 billion tons of carbon — more than the entire atmosphere contains today — much of it in the form of methane, which is 20 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.

I call the period from 2025 to 2050 “Planetary Purgatory.” Assuming conservatives block a major reversal in U.S. policies in the next decade, by the 2020s, everyone will know the grim fate that awaits the next 50 generations, including widespread desertification, the loss of the inland glaciers that provide water to a billion people, sea level rise of 80 feet or more at a rate that might hit 6 inches a decade and extinction of most species on land and sea. Maybe then, as the miseries of global warming overtake everyday life, a backlash against conservatives will begin to rise, one that will ultimately relegate that political movement to the dustbin of history

Because if we don’t turn the political tide against James Inhofe and his gang of deniers now, we will be forced to act out of desperation soon enough. If we delay serious action to 2025, we would then need to cut global emissions by 75 percent in a quarter century or less. And that would require a massive, sustained government intervention into every aspect of our lives on a scale that far surpasses what this country did during World War II. I can’t see how the conservative movement as it now exists could possibly survive having been responsible for ushering in decades if not centuries of untold misery and intrusive government.

You can read the whole piece here.