The real reason conservatives don’t believe in climate science
Part I discussed the odd anti-science part of Krauthammer’s screed, “Carbon Chastity: The First Commandment of the Church of the Environment.” I ended by asking, Why does he break faith with so many conservatives and worship at the altar of evolution science, but stick with them on climate denial? My book discusses this general question at length, and offers the answer:
The answer is that ideology trumps rationality. Most conservatives cannot abide the solution to global warming-strong government regulations and a government-led effort to accelerate clean energy technologies into the market. According to the late Jude Wanniski, Elizabeth Kolbert’s New Yorker articles [on global warming], did nothing more “than write a long editorial on behalf of government intervention to stamp out carbon dioxide.” His villain is not global warming, but is the threat to Americans from government itself.
George Will’s review of Michael Crichton’s State of Fear says: “Crichton’s subject is today’s fear that global warming will cause catastrophic climate change, a belief now so conventional that it seems to require no supporting data … Various factions have interests-monetary, political, even emotional-in cultivating fears. The fears invariably seem to require more government subservience to environmentalists and more government supervision of our lives.”
(Note: Will also believes in evolution — he actually called it “a fact.” For a debunking, with links, of Crichton’s laughable collection of disinformation, see “Global Warming, Tsunamis, and Michael Crichton’s Big Blunder.”)
As The NYT‘s Andy Revkin explained about the recent
skeptic denier delayer conference in New York, “The one thing all the attendees seem to share is a deep dislike for mandatory restrictions on greenhouse gases.” What unites these people is their desire to delay or stop action to cut GHGs, not any one particular view on the climate.
It is nearly impossible to win an argument with a conservative or libertarian who hates government-led action. Yes, you can try to point out all the great things the government has done (the internet, anyone?) and try to point out that they invariably support government-led action for military security, and, of course, government subsidies and regulations to promote energy security, at least as it applies to oil industry and nuclear energy pork.
I have a different argument: If you hate government intrusion into people’s lives, you’d better stop catastrophic global warming, because nothing drives a country more towards activist government than scarcity and deprivation. Interestingly, Krauthammer understand this point abstractly, but since he has no understanding of climate science, indeed he has no interest in learning about the subject at all, he gets the argument exactly backwards.
If you read Krauthammer’s whole climate article, he tries to focus the discussion not on science (which he clearly doesn’t understand) but on environmentalism (which he thinks he does) — this is a very common denier debating tactic, since deniers are in fact usually debating environmentalists, not scientists, because most scientists don’t like to engage in the public arena. He writes:
Yet on the basis of this speculation, environmental activists, attended by compliant scientists and opportunistic politicians, are advocating radical economic and social regulation. “The largest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity,” warns Czech President Vaclav Klaus, “is no longer socialism. It is, instead, the ambitious, arrogant, unscrupulous ideology of environmentalism.”
Do you know any serious scientists? “Compliant” is the last word one would ever use to describe them. Indeed, the best way to get famous in science is to be a skeptic, to disprove a widely held belief.
This paragraph restates the heart of why conservatives hate climate science. It requires action by government, which, for conservatives, is the same as socialism (again, except when it comes to government action on behalf of the nuclear and fossil fuel industries, which is good ol’ capitalism). Krauthammer continues:
Environmentalists are Gaia’s priests, instructing us in her proper service and casting out those who refuse to genuflect … And having proclaimed the ultimate commandment — carbon chastity — they are preparing the supporting canonical legislation that will tell you how much you can travel, what kind of light you will read by, and at what temperature you may set your bedroom thermostat …
There’s no greater social power than the power to ration. And, other than rationing food, there is no greater instrument of social control than rationing energy, the currency of just about everything one does and uses in an advanced society.
Here is where the conservatives have it backwards. The solution to global warming — the strategy needed to avoid 450 ppm — does not require rationing food or energy. It primarily requires a government-led strategy to aggressively deploy clean energy technologies (see here). That strategy preserves the energy abundance that has made modern civilization possible.
But if we hold off today on government action that focuses for several decades on preventing catastrophe, we will almost guarantee the need for extreme and intrusive government action in the post-2030 era, perhaps lasting centuries. Only Big Government-which conservatives say they don’t want-can relocate millions of citizens, build massive levees, ration crucial resources like water and arable land, mandate harsh and rapid reductions in certain kinds of energy-all of which will be inevitable if we don’t act now.
Ironically, Krauthammer is afraid of climate strategies that are “economically ruinous and socially destructive,” and says the greatest form of rationing according is food rationing. Well, if we follow the talk-much do-little climate strategy of conservatives, then we are all but certain to end up at 1000 ppm by century’s end, and that would be economically ruinous and socially destructive. And long before then, with peak oil prices that we haven’t prepared for, hundreds of millions more people to feed and increasing desertification, drought, and loss of inland glaciers, we will be rationing food. And water.
The scarcity and deprivation of 1000 ppm could last for hundreds of years. Conservatives can’t stop 1000 ppm by their anti-science, anti-government rhetoric. But they can prevent progressives and moderates from stopping 1000 ppm by blocking aggressive climate legislation. How ironic — and tragic — it would be if conservatives’ short-term quest to avoid a bigger government led to a permanently huge government.