climate hawkYou probably suspected I would break my own pledge not to write about “climate hawks” any more, but I doubt even the most cynical among you thought I’d do it within 24 hours! Shows what you know.

I want to correct one mistake people seem to be making about the climate hawk/dove spectrum. Being a climate hawk does not require any particular position on climate science. There is no scientific “litmus test.” In fact, one’s position on the hawk/dove spectrum is orthogonal to one’s position on climate science. In my last post, I said:

The hawk/dove distinction — on climate as on foreign policy or the deficit — is about more than facts. It’s about risk assessment. How serious is the threat and how strong a response is warranted? Answering those questions goes beyond facts into economic, ethical, and policy judgments. It’s not about what to believe, it’s about what to do.

To help get clear about this, let’s do a crude exercise. Here are two positions on climate change science:

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1. Climate science shows that climate change is a serious, pressing threat.
2. Climate science is uncertain and the risks of climate change are distant and highly speculative (or climate change is a big hoax).

Here are two positions on climate and clean energy policy:

A. Action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build out clean energy will be socially and economically beneficial: it will save consumers money, increase the nation’s energy security, and create jobs.
B. Action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build out clean energy will be prohibitively costly: it will cost consumers money, decrease energy security, and destroy jobs.

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You can now see four distinct positions:

1A. Climate hawk.
1B. Climate hawk or dove (depending which is judged higher, the threat or the costs).
2A. Climate hawk.
2B. Climate dove.

Of course this is reductive: there are many positions on the spectrum between 1 and 2, and between A and B, and thus there are many nuanced positions along the climate hawk/dove spectrum. (I’m sure some enterprising reader could turn this into a cool infographic.) Climate hawks will have divergent views about the science, as will doves.

Point is: the hawk/dove spectrum implies nothing in particular about one’s scientific views. It is supposed to capture where you come out after weighing the risks, no matter what you think the respective risks are.


UPDATE: One thing I meant to add is that in the wake of the climate bill failure, Obama seems to be specifically trying to target 2’s, converting 2B’s into 2A’s. Here’s how he pitches it, from his National Journal interview:

[M]y approach to Republicans would be to say, “Regardless of what you think about climate change, here are a bunch of things that are smart to do. It will save consumers money, it will save the country as much money going into foreign oil imports, so let’s concentrate on things that we just know are smart to do.” If we do that, we can probably get a quarter of the way there in terms of where we need to be in terms of carbon emissions. The other thing we need to do is to make investments in new energy sources, clean-energy sources, because the unit costs for clean-energy [sources] are still higher than they are for traditional fossil fuels. I had a group of businessmen in here led by Bill Gates that said, “Probably the most important thing we might be able to do right now is to triple our R&D budget for energy,” because right now it’s about a third of what the NIH gets for health research. Why not boost this so that we can make faster strides? Even when you talk to somebody like Steven Chu, my Energy secretary, who knows the science of climate change and takes it very seriously, as do I, he’s the first one to acknowledge that we’re going to need some transformative technologies in order for us to get all the way to where we need to be on climate change. The point is that there’s things that we can do short-term on that don’t require you to perfectly agree on the science of climate change in order for you to think that it’s beneficial for Americans long-term.

In other words, he’s saying, you ought to be a climate hawk even if you’re unconvinced or unmoved by climate science.