Hey, did anyone here read that recent article on political strategies for action on climate change? You know, the one published in the National Review?
OK, I generally don’t recommend the National Review on environmental policy, but I couldn’t help peeking at the recent article [PDF] by Jim Manzi. Various writers of the more thoughtful right-of-center blogs have alternatively described it as "brilliant" and "a taste of how a wised-up, heads-out-of-the-sand Right could kick [liberals’] ass on the issue" of global warming. I hadn’t realized that climate change was a game of flag football, but there you go.
From where I sit, it’s hard to see the brilliance of Manzi’s article. He understands that the scientific evidence for man-made global warming is strong, and further realizes that blatant obstructionism is, in the long term, a losing proposition.
But his proposed political strategy for addressing the problem is to downplay the likely effects of climate change while telling blue collar workers that environmentalists want to steal their jobs. Simultaneously, he wants to launch an alternative set of lower-cost, inadequate programs to address the problem.
So he’s basically proposing the most obvious political strategy imaginable for obstructionists, once denialism fully runs its course. "Global warming can be the first wedge issue of the 21st century," he gloats.
Nevertheless, I’m not writing about Manzi’s article for the snark value. I’m writing about it because I think the article, almost in spite of itself, offers some food for thought. After all, if you set aside the noxious partisanship, the theme of Manzi’s article is how to sell climate change as a winning issue to a part of the electorate that is presently indifferent or openly hostile:
Global warming is a manageable risk, not an existential crisis, and we should get on with the job of managing it. Conservatives should propose policies that are appropriately optimistic, science-based, and low-cost. This should be an attractive political program: It is an often-caricatured, but very healthy, reality that Americans usually respond well to the conversion of political issues into technical problems. After all, we’re very good at solving the latter.
Substitute "environmentalists" for "conservatives" in this paragraph, and you have something to chew on. The conventional approach in the green community is to hammer on the scientific and moral urgency of the problem in order to whip up enthusiasm for change. What if this is entirely the wrong prescription for reaching the mainstream?
I’m not really ready to get on board this train yet, but I will say this: after reading the article, I’m pretty optimistic that the wedge politics of climate change will fail. The simple truth is that Manzi’s message, if effective, is just way too easy to co-opt.