Conservative Climate Change

This approach, contained in an article from The New Atlantis, is desperately needed to counter the left’s unworkable approach and the right’s denial of any approach.

An excerpt.

America’s climate policy to date has been a failure, and a costly one. The way it is now unfolding it runs a large chance of incurring high costs, and only a very small chance of benefiting the American people. Environmentalists have failed to provide an effective response to the challenges posed by climate change. Instead they have focused on an expensive and ultimately futile strategy of unilateral greenhouse gas restrictions. Conservatives, meanwhile, rather than developing a constructive response to climate change have chosen largely to ignore it or to obfuscate climate science.

The United States needs a new vision of climate policy that deals soberly with both scientific and political realities. Although the environmental movement has arguably done the world a great service in popularizing scientific findings about climate change, its climate policy response is quixotic. Where innovation should be prized, it endorses the precautionary principle. Where careful weighing of outcomes and risks is called for, it scorns the use of cost-benefit analysis. Despite high uncertainty about how climate change will affect the United States, most environmental groups are trying to narrow our range of options to a strategy that amounts to stringent energy austerity. Faced with a problem that demands great suppleness, their main response is to engorge the administrative state.

The conservative and business groups that have borne the brunt of opposing these policies have probably saved the country large sums of money that would otherwise have been squandered on ill-advised abatement schemes. But, with some notable exceptions, they have badly muddled the scientific issues, and they may have harmed the conservative brand, losing well-informed voters who would otherwise be sympathetic to the right. By dogmatically asserting that no serious threat is on the horizon, too many conservatives have removed themselves from the debate about how to hedge our bets sensibly by finding ways of reducing the risks climate change poses while minimizing the economic impact.

Because conservatives, for the most part, are less concerned about climate change than environmentalists are, it may seem that workable solutions are more likely to come from the left. That assumption is incorrect. If politicians and policy analysts on the right were to look more carefully at the problem, they would realize that conservatism offers much more tenable approaches — and they might just be able to stop running from the issue.

Where the Science Stands

Climate change — or global warming, as it was once more commonly known — is an extremely complex phenomenon influenced by both human activity and natural processes. Agriculture, the burning of fossil fuels, and many other human activities release “greenhouse gases” — so called because they absorb energy in a way that allows sunlight to warm the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is the most important of the greenhouse gases influenced by human activity, but methane and a number of others are also important. Once these gases enter the atmosphere, natural processes withdraw them into various “sinks,” such as the oceans, vegetation, and soil. But human activity is releasing these greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at higher rates than they’re being drawn out through the natural cycles, so their concentrations in the atmosphere are rising — particularly that of carbon dioxide. Atmospheric carbon dioxide measured at the Mauna Lea observatory in Hawaii has increased from 315 parts per million in 1959 to 396 parts per million in 2013. Concentrations of carbon dioxide have not been that high during the entire history of human civilization, and perhaps even in the entire time that our species has walked the earth.

As greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise, the average global temperature is expected to rise as well. As it does, it will affect the world’s climate in myriad ways. Some of the changes will be harmful, others may be beneficial. At present, it is far from clear exactly what all those changes will be, where they will occur, or when we can expect them to take place, much less just who will benefit or suffer from them.

The 2013 report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paints a mixed picture of the long-term risks. Based on the report’s findings and predictions, it would seem that over the next several decades, or perhaps even for the remainder of this century, the United States will be able to adapt to climate change at tolerable costs, though those costs will rise over time. However, key strategic allies such as India will be at greater risk. There is also a small but real chance that the global climate system might lurch in a way that could cause serious harm around the world. Climate change therefore does present legitimate grounds for concern, but it is not yet a crisis, and not yet clear that it will be — or that it will not.

Retrieved December 1, 2014 from

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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