The Corner

The Debate is Moving

Andrew Sullivan has put up an amazing series of posts over the past day or so in reaction to my post yesterday here at The Corner on winning the global warming debate.

It started with Andrew regretfully indicating that he is slowly becoming convinced “that our current approach to climate change is doomed to fail and probably not worth trying.”

This apparently created quite a reaction. He posted an e-mail from “a flaming leftist environmentalist”, who said that:

There’s the old debate, with the Lieberman-Warner mess on one end, still trying to use the techniques that fought acid rain and smog on global warming, and the deniers on the other end covering their ears and screaming. The new debate has Manzi on one end saying, “it can’t be done, so quit trying,” and Shellenberger and Nordhaus on the end saying, “proper government investment means economic growth and greenhouse reductions.” My guess is that by the time 2012 rolls around and we’re doing this Presidential thing all over again, we’ll be thoroughly ensconced in the new debate.

Andrew posted a subsequent e-mail from me saying that I think this is an excellent description of where the debate is headed. I also think, by the way, that this is just another version of the debate over industrial policy, and that we will win this debate as well.

Andrew also posted an e-mail from another reader who said that:

I think the real point is that this is the debate we should have been having years ago. The right wing attack on science, especially of global warming, has meant that in fact the real necessary arguments about cost, level of mitigation, etc are not being played out.

I have made this same point about the problematic relationship between conservatives and science. But most liberals are afraid to confront the fact that liberalism also has, for entirely different reasons, its own problems with science. It is my view that both have created a less-than-productive discussion vis-à-vis global warming, but I hope that we can start to move past them a little bit.

Finally, Andrew posted a piece from Sonny Bunch, who said that:

I defy you to convince Americans that it’s worth radically raising the prices of everyday goods–the real life effect of strict carbon caps–to marginally allay the costs of global warming in the distant future. This is why global warming is a winning issue for conservatives: inertia will lead to resistance towards radical change, a resistance that conservatives share.

Just so. Tocqueville is pretty much always the go-to guy when you want to understand long-term trends in American political society. I quoted him in my original National Review article as describing how the American people react to radical plans put forth by a revolutionary leader:

“They do not combat him energetically, they sometimes even applaud him. To his impetuosity they secretly oppose their inertia; to his revolutionary instincts, their conservative instincts; their homebody tastes to his adventurous passions; their good sense to the leaps of his genius; to his poetry, their prose. He arouses them for a moment with a thousand efforts, but soon after they get away from him, and, as if dragged down by their own weight, they fall back.”

We are, once again, watching him being proven right.

Jim Manzi is CEO of Applied Predictive Technologies (APT), an applied artificial intelligence software company.

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