Friday, October 7, 2011


By sheer coincidence I happened across a June 11th (2011) article by one Richard Glover in the Sydney (Australia) Morning Harold, "The Dangers of Bone Headed Beliefs", in which the author pokes fun of climate change denialists, mainly, but also of "green zealots", who treat the science of global warming as a sort of religion. You may not like the humor - it has the typical hard edges of British humor which some here in the Colonies find objectionable.

As it happens, the article didn't create much of a stir when it first appeared in print. However, someone posted a link to it at an American conservative website, where upon it went viral and spawned a ration of hate mail from conservative lunatics, as reported by Mr. Glover in a later article. But that's beside the point. I've no doubt liberal lunatics are as proficient at writing hate mail as conservatives are.

What caught my eye in the article was the following:

"Is it possible to get the politics out of the climate-change debate? The first step might be to acknowledge the way ideology informs attitudes to climate change on both sides.

People on the left instinctively believe in communal action, the role of government and the efficacy of international agencies such as the UN. They were always going to believe in climate change; it's the sort of problem that can best be solved using the tools they most enjoy using.

The right tended to be sceptical about climate change from the start and for exactly the same reasons. It's the sort of problem that requires global, communal action, with governments setting rules. It is a problem that requires tools they instinctively dislike using."

What I found surprising was how compactly the author was able to reduce the public's ideological divide over the science of climate change to such profoundly simple terms. Not only that, but this account makes total sense to me.

Now it is true I firmly believe in the fundamental correctness of the science which establishes global warming as an anthropocentric phenomenon. Furthermore, I've spent no little time considering the views of many in prominence who deny it - and found the criticisms to be unsupported by facts, if not downright fraudulent.

However, before I come to a review of the science, as a liberal, I have one less hurdle to get over than my conservative counterpart. I know going in that if global warming constitutes a valid threat, the solution may require some expansion of national, as well as international government. And frankly, that prospect doesn't bother me. As a liberal, I should say I'm as terrified of repressive government as you are. But, perhaps unlike you, I believe in the perfectibility of government.

This is what makes it so hard for liberals and conservatives to work together on effective solutions. To put it another way, I suppose a conservative might believe that even if the consensus view on climate change is correct, might it be that the loss of individual liberties embodied by a solution are worse than the effects of climate change in any case?

You know, I think this is a meaningful question, and possibly worth at least as much consideration as the details of the science itself. Famously, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey - a true conservative - has stated his unequivocal trust in the consensus view on climate change. Yet, he is also on record as opposing the strategies currently favored by the left. Frum Forum has a rather nice article on his position.

Now it seems to me the whole issue of climate change could be viewed as only a part of a much larger dialogue - one in which the aims of both conservatives and liberals dovetail. Frankly, a rational, integrated, national energy policy which has the objective of supplanting fossil fuels with renewables, need not require as its prime goal the reduction of carbon emissions.

Consider Charles Krauthammer: as ardent a conservative, liberal bashing, climate change denier as ever walked the Earth. Yet, a lack of faith in the science behind global warming doesn't prevent him from writing articles like this. From the article:

"For 25 years and with utter futility (starting with "The Oil-Bust Panic," the New Republic, February 1983), I have been advocating the cure: a U.S. energy tax as a way to curtail consumption and keep the money at home. On this page in May 2004 (and again in November 2005), I called for "the government -- through a tax -- to establish a new floor for gasoline," by fully taxing any drop in price below a certain benchmark. The point was to suppress demand and to keep the savings (from any subsequent world price drop) at home in the U.S. Treasury rather than going abroad. At the time, oil was $41 a barrel. It is now $123."


"Want to wean us off oil? Be open and honest. The British are paying $8 a gallon for petrol. Goldman Sachs is predicting we will be paying $6 by next year. Why have the extra $2 (above the current $4) go abroad? Have it go to the U.S. Treasury as a gasoline tax and be recycled back into lower payroll taxes."

Let's parse this. What Charles Krauthammer is advocating, plainly, is a targeted tax on fossil fuels. What he does not advocate, characteristically, is using this tax to subsidize the production of energy with renewables. Instead, he would use this revenue to reduce payroll taxes - and allow free market mechanics to make renewables a more attractive investment.

Now there, in my estimation, is a solution we should all be able to agree on - liberals and conservatives alike. A: Tax a diminishing resource (oil), the supply of which we depend on from unstable and unpredictable foreign sources. B: Return the tax to the U.S. consumer by way of a "revenue neutral" income tax deduction. C: Allow the market to find and develop alternative energy sources without government interference.

Everybody wins: liberal tree huggers and drill baby drill neocons alike. And nobody has to fight over climatology. What do you think?



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