Planet Gore

Et tu, Cato? (Part 2 of 2)

Continued from prior post…

Manzi’s reading of the political situation is as wrong-headed as his facts and reasoning on the science.
He suggests that conservatives turn global warming alarmism into a political advantage by essentially out-marketing the enviros on the solutions. “Conservatives should propose policies that are appropriately optimistic, science-based and low-cost… A key political question is there fore which side could more effectively use its position on carbon taxes to peel off 1 percent of the relevant votes from the opposing coalition,” he writes.

Actually, as Milloy says, I propose different policies, not marketing the same policies differently.  Specifically, I think that the key point of difference between conservatives and liberals on policy ought to be an all-out refusal by conservatives to impose a carbon tax or a carbon cap-and-trade system for the US.  I describe in detail why I think this is the right policy and smart politics. 

Why won’t putting a happy-face on being the low-cost-provider of planetary apocalypticism work? Because averting planetary disaster is not what global warming alarmism is all about. There are many nefarious agendas driving the global warming controversy, none of them have anything to do with “saving” the planet, and to pretend they don’t exist is to truly live in denial.

There are many people in the “stop global warming at all costs” coalition who have nefarious motives.  None of them, since they are human, have totally pure motives.  None of this changes the physics of the issue. 

First, there are the radical left-wing environmentalists whose goal – through control of energy production and use, and ultimately the economy – is global socialism. As Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore related in the recent Channel 4 (UK) documentary, entitled “The Great Global Warming Swindle,” by the mid-1980s, environmental goals – e.g., clean air and clean water – had become so mainstream that activists had to adopt more extreme positions to remain anti-establishment. Then when the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended, many “peace-niks” and left-wing political activists moved over to environmental activism, bringing their “neo-Marxist” political philosophy with them. As Moore puts it, environmentalism became the “new guise for anti-capitalism.”

Many environmentalists are anti-capitalist zealots who would destroy the economy if we were foolish enough to let them.  So what?  How does this affect our independent determination of what we should do?  

Then there are the Europeans who are responsible for launching global warming alarmism in the first place.
When Margaret Thatcher became UK Prime Minister in 1979, her mandate was to reduce Britain’s economic decline. Thatcher wanted to make the UK energy-independent through nuclear power – she didn’t like her country’s reliance on coal, which politically empowered the coal miner unions, or oil, which empowered Middle Eastern states.
So Thatcher latched onto her science adviser’s notion that man-made emissions of carbon dioxide warmed the planet in a harmful way, thereby providing the perfect political cover for advancing her nuclear power agenda without having to fight the miners or Arab oil states.
She empowered the U.K. Meteorological Office to begin global climate change research, a move that eventually led to the 1988 creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations’ group that has come to be the “official” international agency for global warming alarmism.

There are many plausible, non-mutually-exclusive theories for why Thatcher led the charge against global warming so early.  One is that as a rare politician with scientific training, it allowed her to own an issue on which other politicians, lacking such training, would not challenge her.  Another is that she actually believed what she was saying (she was known to do this).  I recall that she had a small confrontation with the miners, and this did not seem to scare her.
Her historical motivations do not change the physics of the issue. Why should they affect our independent determination of what we should do?   

The Europeans now see global warming as a means of hampering U.S. economic competitiveness through increased energy prices. In a global warming-worried world, it becomes more expensive to use coal, for example. About 52 percent of U.S. electricity is produced by burning coal. France, in contrast, gets 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power. Guess whose economy takes the hit.
The Europeans also know that environmentalists and trial lawyers will ensure that greenhouse gas emissions regulations are strictly enforced in the U.S. The same cannot be said for Europe.

Many Europeans, especially government elites, would like to restrain the U.S. economy.  Some parts of Europe (e.g., Scandinavia) tend to enforce regulations more completely than the US, and some (e.g., Italy) less completely than the US.  So what?  How does this affect our independent determination of what we should do, other than, once again, argue against enetring any kind of a global or regional carbon tax or cap-and-trade system?  

There is also the gigantic global warming bureaucracy that’s been created over the last 20 years. Whereas there used to be only a handful of scientists who called themselves atmospheric scientists, now there are legions of self-proclaimed “climatologists” along with the attendant bureaucracies to support them. U.S. taxpayers alone support this gang to a tune of about $5 billion per year.
Where a zoologist might previously have had difficulty getting a grant to study the mating habits of squirrels, a whole new world of possibilities opens up if the newly minted climato-zoologist asks for funding to study whether changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide are making female squirrels friskier.

Scientists are not selfless automatons.  Financial incentives do drive them to change (or re-label) research projects, and do influence results.  I have posted on the fact that this has probably created at least a couple of blind spots in the science of global warming.  The process of science tends to be self-correcting, but like all markets, this can take a long time to work, and is imperfect.
Like Milloy’s statements about the politicization of the science, these are generalities.   They shouldn’t lead us to say that since it is imperfect, we will simply ignore all science on this topic, or to blindly accept that anything that is labeled as “science” must therefore be true.  Milloy has put forward numerous examples of what he believes to be bad science; upon scrutiny, each of his objections falls apart.  If he has other specific examples, he should present them. 

Perhaps the most effective of these pro-global warming groups is big business.
The alternative energy industry uses global warming fearmongering to sell subsidized, but still high-priced energy. Wal-Mart wants us to pay $5.99 for inferior but climate-friendly light bulbs, rather than $0.75 for traditional incandescent bulbs. Dupont and other manufacturing giants want Congress to dole out global warming pork for their past, voluntary reductions in greenhouse gases. Goldman Sachs owns part of the climate exchanges on which permits to emit greenhouse gases are to be traded.
Global-warming hysteria was just that, until big business climbed aboard the climate railroad. Now with its army of lobbyists in Washington, many businesses see global warming as a lucrative endeavor and they are trying to engineer congressional action for their own limited interests.

If 75% of American consumers believed that we were under imminent threat of invasion by purple monsters from outer space, you can bet that GE would establish an Alien Repulsion Systems Division and Wal-Mart would have 500 linear feet of shelves in every store devoted to Alien Resistant Suits.  They are selling this because people are buying it; it’s like monkeys going after bananas.  They will also lobby to create whatever advantage they can.  This doesn’t mean that the risk is not real. 

And let’s not forget Congress and other state and local politicians who, not surprisingly, have adopted the Green veneer of virtue. “Green-ness” has become the new moral high ground that few dare to challenge. Those that do are pilloried as “skeptics” and likened to Holocaust deniers. It’s no surprise that so many politicians – not a courageous lot to start with – have opted to join the Big Green machine.

See comments about American business, and change “consumers” to “voters”.  This doesn’t mean that the risk is not real. 

All this apparently is lost on Manzi whose penultimate thought is, “But by getting past denial and taking a science-based approach to the issue, a clever candidate could take a principled stand that past major tactical dividends.”

The key policy that I propose conservative politicians should advocate is resistance to a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system.  Huge momentum is building behind these (especially cap-and-trade) right now.  It is a foolish political strategy to counter this with “global warming is a fiction” when very few people will accept that (and with good reason – see the prior parts of this post or my article).  Conservatives have shut themselves out of the debate with this position.  It lets advocates of a massive intervention in the economy, that neither Milloy nor I want to see, argue with a straw man of “there is no global warming”.  Conservatives will lose that political debate.
The more conservatives can focus the debate on “here’s what cap-and-trade will cost” (hint: hundreds of dollars per month per family in the US) vs. its benefits (hint:  it’s a combination of a foreign aid program for people who might live in tropical regions a hundred years from now plus an incredibly over-priced insurance program for an unquantifiably small risk to the US in the 22nd century), the better they will be able to prevent it.   

But cleverness will not likely protect our freedoms and wallets from the Greens, Europeans, global bureaucracy, rent-seeking businesses and Congress. These groups need to be sternly faced-down with the scientific and economic realities of global warming.

Here are the groups that Milloy posits are parts of a conspiracy to hose us: environmentalists, Margaret Thatcher, Europe, scientists, American business and the US Congress.  Who’s not part of it? Do you really think it’s a smart political idea to run against all of them? 

Right now, conservatives are leading the charge in favor of sound science, and against climate clamoring and profiteering. That should continue to be our “game plan.” That is the principled stand.

Steven Milloy apparently doesn’t think I’m conservative enough for him.  Whatever.  I’m pro-freedom and pro-science. 

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

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