The Truly Conservative View of Climate Policy

A nice column in the Washington Post about why conservatives should change their views about climate policy:

When faced with uncertainty and the possibility of costly outcomes, smart businessmen buy insurance, reduce their downside exposure and protect their assets… And when military planners assess an enemy, they get ready for a worst-case encounter.

When it comes to climate change, conservatives are doing none of this. Instead, they are recklessly betting the farm on a single, best-case scenario: That the scientific consensus about global warming will turn out to be wrong. This is bad risk management and an irresponsible way to run anything, whether a business, an economy or a planet.

The great irony is that, should their high-stakes bet prove wrong, adapting to a destabilized climate would mean a far bigger, more intrusive government than would most of the “big government” solutions to our energy problems that have been discussed so far.

Conservative opposition to cap-and-trade as a technique is even more out of sync with their general beliefs — what’s wrong with a market-based solution that avoids the need for government micro-management of business??

, ,

Reader Comments

20 Replies to “The Truly Conservative View of Climate Policy”

  1. Already this year, adverse climatic conditions have hit agricultural output hard and big price increases for food and cotton are on the way–even moderate increases in prices for food and clothing will be keenly felt by workers with stagnate wages and tough on the the unemployed.

    2010 could be just a taste of what’s in store.

    As far as the point about cap and trade–I think conservatives could legitimately have lots of problems with it, at least what I have seen come out of Congress so far. W-M and K-G-L seem anything but ideal markets; they seem to be markets tailored more by political influence than anything else. The more warped these markets are by political influence, the more government picks winners and losers (clean coal over fuel cells), the less efficient these markets will be–less efficient at pricing carbon, less efficient at capturing the environmental externalities. And lower efficiency means higher cost.

    They may not be against a market solution. It may be that the see Democratic versions of cap and trade and think, that ain’t no market and it ain’t no solution.

  2. Who is betting what here?

    Have you considered the cost of meeting the CO2 emission demands and wealth transfers demanded by the IPCC?
    Have a think about it and you might realize that they are asking just a bit more than $20 a week out of ones pay packet.

    Perhaps the conservatives see this certainty in relation to the uncertainty of AGW and simply are playing the chips in a sensible way.



  3. C’mon Dan. You know better than this. The only cap-and-trade proposals we’ve seen in Congress (e.g. Waxman-Markey) involved lots of “government micro-management of business,” while also creating a rent-seeking bonanza and substantially increasing the tax burden. Many conservatives believe this is the nature of such faux-market proposals.
    On the other hand, many conservatives would support measures to enhance technological innovation and a revenue-neutral carbon tax (and revenue-neutral means rebating the revenues or reducing other taxes, not giving out corporate welfare or funding other priorities).

    I think the question you should ask is why, if climate change is a crisis, so many progressives (e.g the op-ed author’s colleagues at CAP) oppose consensus policies that could start the ball rolling on climate change.

    Jonathan H. Adler

  4. Opposition to cap and trade is based on fundamental flaws and deficiencies in our understanding of the role of carbon dioxide and the veracity of disaster scenarios. Many educated and reasonable people do not perceive climate change as a crisis that demands government action.

    We rightly understand that government can not control the climate so we dismiss the hype and think about other things. This accounts for the pleasant demeanor and positive attitude of so-called “deniers.” Have a good day and remember to smile.

  5. Jon —

    Name a single member of the House Republican Conference who has ever stated publicly that he or she would favor a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Mark Kirk doesn’t count: he has public repudiated his position under pressure from his party. If you’ve got a link, that would be great.


  6. JZ —

    Rep. Bob Inglis endorsed such an approach, as have supply-side guru Arthur Laffer, WSJ editorialist Steve Moore (formerly of the Club for Growth), and Exxon-Mobil.
    Senator Lisa Murkowski also tried to put this on the table.

    It’s also worth remembering that many Republicans have endorsed switching from taxes on income to taxes on consumption over the years — and that’s what a revenue-neutral carbon tax would do.


  7. Well Jon, you mean the Bob Inglis who just got blasted out of the sky in a Republican primary, in no small part because of his apostasy on the climate issue? Or Murkowski, who lost her own Republican primary and never introduced a bill on it? If that’s GOP climate policy, I’m still waiting.

    That said, the Flake bill seems like a promising opportunity. I agree with you in preferring a carbon tax to cap-and-trade. Well, Flake is now in the majority: I hope he’ll reintroduce the bill in the next session, and that Speaker Boehner gives it as much political push as Speaker Pelosi did with Waxman-Markey. I’m not holding my breath, but I hope I’m wrong.


  8. I should also mention that these proposals were made a long time ago, when Obama was on top and people were talking about the so-called permanent Democratic majority. As far as I can tell, Inglis never introduced a bill, and now he is in no position to. We’ll see what happens.

  9. I wouldn’t recommend holding your breath either, but it’s important to acknowledge that one reason you don’t see more serious GOP environmental efforts is that conservative Republicans believe it is virtually impossible for them to get any credit with D.C.-based environmentalist groups. The first President Bush oversaw the greatest expansion in federal environmental regulatory authority since President Nixon and he got zero credit for it come election time. And yet the same environmental groups regularly make excuses for the anti-environmental ag policies pushed by farm belt Democrats. Republicans should take environmental policy more seriously, but the environmental establishment also needs to put environmental gains ahead of partisan politics and progressive ideology.


  10. Find the “environmental establishment” (such as it is) a Republican who is willing to support environmental legislation, and youll get their support. LCV gave lots of money and an endorsement to Lincoln Chaffee in 2006, much to the consternation of progressives nationwide. And those progressive had a point: if Chaffee voted with the GOP to organize the Senate, then James Inhofe is the EPW chair.

    You’re right about Papa Bush, but the environmental establishment is so unbelievably weak that in once sense, it doesn’t really matter: they can’t get anyone elected except in California.

    I’m happy to try to knock off Collin Peterson any time you’ve got a halfway decent chance.

  11. Your comment makes my point. You can’t simultaneously maintain that major environmentalist groups will support Republicans who support environmental legislation but oppose those who will support their party’s leadership. So with the exception of true RINOs like Chafee, no Republicans get any meaningful support, no matter what they do. So, when the Republicans took Congress in 1995, and some of the conservatives wanted to go after environmentally harmful subsidies, they got no covering fire from enviros, even those groups that put out lists of environmentally harmful pork — lists that conveniently omitted agricultural programs favored by Democrats. And then the LCV would turnaround and put out voting records based, in part, on things like whether a Congressman signed a “Dear Colleague” letter that was only circulated to the Democratic caucus. That hardly makes it seem like LCV or the other groups care more about the environment than partisan advantage.


  12. Well, we’re getting a little into ancient history, aren’t we Jon? The GOP had control of Congress for 12 years, and for most of that time it went merrily on its way undermining most environmental statutes -and not because of a genuine reform agenda. When someone like Sherry Boehlert complained — and he consistently got LARGE support from LCV, belying your argument concerning partisan advantage — he was routinely ignored by the likes of Joe Barton and Richard Pombo.

    I agree with you that Freedom To Farm was one of the best farm bills ever, and I’ll take your word for it that LCV didn’t put it on its scorecard. But 6 years later, the Republicans repealed it as soon as they got the chance, and then every Republican voted against the progressive alternative to the Peterson montrosity, which substantially cut subsidies. That makes it seem like THEY are more interested in partisan advantage than the environment. (And no, don’t tell me that well, the GOP just HAD to repeal Freedom to Farm because of big, bad Carl Pope.).

    In the meantime, the Republicans gave us the absurd 2005 Energy Bill, increased subsidies for oil producers, tried to repeal the ESA and sell off chunks of the National Park System, passed resolutions to investigate judges who ruled in ways they didn’t like, put energy lobbyists in charge of Interior and CEQ (who rewrote scientific findings), ignored Whitman when she tried to stop it, refused even to answer e-mails when presented with scientific evidence, conducted a witch hunt against Michael McCann (which is still ongoing and will heighten), presented us with fraudulent non-scandals like “Climategate” (one of Issa’s highest priorities as incoming Oversight chair)) etc. etc. and you’re saying that that’s the LCV’s fault? Be serious. Even assuming that the environmental movement is as strong as you say — which I find untethered to any evidence — it makes perfect sense for it to become partisan because of where the GOP is now.

    And why is the GOP there? There are lots of reasons, but NONE of them include the positions of the environmental lobby.

  13. Oh, and I checked out a little more about HR 2380, the Flake bill: it got exactly ONE co-sponsor from the GOP: Inglis, now run out of the party because of his apostasy. The only other co-sponsor was Dan Lipinski, a conservative Democrat. Not exactly a “consensus” solution, although it seems like a good idea for a bill. You used to work at CEI: why didn’t they jump on the consensus bandwagon? Wouldn’t hold my breath on that one, either.

  14. Everyone here seems to be missing part of what is going on. For many conservatives, skepticism of the ability of government to solve problems (a common conservative view, reasonably held) seems to fit well with skepticism of government’s ability to recognize problems in the first place. Since it is often government-supported scientists (either government employees or dependent on government grants) that do important work on climate science, it’s no shock that many conservatives skeptical of government don’t believe them (and no shock that liberals like me, who are more positive about government, tend to believe those same scientists).

    For conservatives who regularly work with climate issues, they appear to often see that the broken clock is right twice a day, with government as the broken clock and climate science as one of those two times. And then they get to how to deal with it, like Prof Adler’s work on prizes. But Republican members of Congress are not regularly working with climate science, so I have no idea how to persuade them to, just this once, believe what the government is saying.

  15. calbear, I can’t quite agree with you on this one, because I don’t think that conservatives who actually have any power maintain any skepticism whatsoever of the government’s inability to solve problems. Conservatives have no problem with vigorous government action, whether it’s fighting a war in Iraq to remake the Middle East, or fighting another one with Iran because we screwed up the last one, or regulating the people’s intimate sex lives in order to “protect family values”, or throwing massive subsidies at oil, coal, and nuclear energy industries, or making it virtually impossible for people to sue for damages, or creating vast warrantless wiretapping programs, or putting the State Secrets Doctrine on steroids in the name of internal security.

    What American conservatives do have a problem with is using government power to reduce social and economic inequalities. And that’s not really because they think it can’t be done, but because they wouldn’t want it done even if it could be. They don’t believe in it. It’s a matter of principle for them. This is why low-taxers who theoretically believe in limited government can exist happily with right-wing social conservatives: both advocate policies designed to foster the interests of dominant groups, whether they are the wealthy or traditional sexual majorities.

    Climate change is related to this because in most forms it will tell powerful and dominant interests that they don’t get to do what they want to do. They don’t like that. That’s not the end of the story, but it’s awfully close.

  16. love the discussion. wish i had written the qualification “honest, thinking” in my statement that conservatives could have legitimate problems with cap and trade.

    I like Jeff Flake, but don’t know his positions on environmental issues. The ideas in that link are right-on. One pickle (taking the bill as outlined in the rather short post)would be for retirees or others on fixed incomes–energy costs go without a compensating payroll tax reduction. i suppose there would need to be an increase of some kind in cost of living adjustments or the establishment of stepped electric rates. Thanks for the link.

    More to jhadler’s point, how did we loose the Republicans? Was it all them, or is it partly us? What kind of leverage do we have now that Democrats take our support for granted?

    I love what Jonathan Zasloff posted, but a couple points–the 05 energy bill had some Republican opposition and plenty of Democratic support (Feinstein, Obama, Clinton). I think some of the energy bills (Bingaman) in the Senate today look a lot like that 05 bill. Don’t forget, it was Republicans like McCain, who made the difference and saved ANWR when opening up the refuge was included reconciliation. Given the pluses and minuses of such a vote, I wonder if any of them would ever vote that way again. We may find out.

    But hearing a few voices of sanity emerge from the right is a nice surprise. It leaves me with an odd, slightly hopeful feeling. Post election, it’s no time for hand-wringing. To paraphrase Ginsberg, America, put your unused shoulder to the wheel!

  17. Another point to Jonathon, perhaps a critical point to think about post-election. I don’t know if the dominant interests are awfully close to the whole story. I think the story may more the tale of the everyman.

    To one degree or another–and certainly more in America than many other places–our lives and any sense of accomplishment are bound up with and symbolized by lifestyle and material wealth. Ideas that throw that into question are going to meet resistance.

    No doubt some of the resistance is fear as well, the unsettling feeling that consumption without bounds–especially as symbolized by our consumption of energy–is not sustainable. And if the consumption that powered the jobs, the lifestyle and the wealth is not sustainable, what next?

    Which leader doesn’t pander to the population? Which leader doesn’t fear what would happen if a subsidy–like low fuel prices in Iran, Venezuela, or the US–were taken away?

    Now, if you could just successfully package a low-carbon lifestyle for sale, that would be another story.

Comments are closed.

About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

READ more

About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

READ more