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A thoughtful conservative perspective on climate

Posted on 29 December 2011 by Tom Smerling

Peter Wehner has impeccable conservative credentials, having served under Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and most recently, as deputy assistant to Pres. George W. Bush.  He resides at the "Ethics & Public Policy Center," a neo-con think tank.

After a long look at the evidence, Wehner concluded that the scientific consensus on climate is correct.    He wrote two interesting posts titled "Conservatives and Climate Change," in the neo-con magazine Commentary, which prides itself in intellectual conservatism.

Wehner makes a nod to scientific uncertainties and the potential dangers of excessive government intervention, and he firmly rejects alarmism.    Climate hawks will find plenty to argue with, but these caveats are worth considering because a) most have some merit, and b) they clarify exactly where many conservatives get stuck.  If we don't address conservative reservations and fears directly, we're failing to get at the roots from which science denial stems.

More importantly, Wehner explicitly separates the question "Is it happening?" from "What should we do?" -- in itself a major step forward -- and for the most part he accepts the science.   His gutsy stance is particularly welcome following the recent recantations by born-again climate agnostics Romney, Gingrich and Huntsman.

Check out these excerpts (The full posts are here at Part I & Part II)

"The world is getting warmer. The warming is almost certainly caused, at least in large part, by human activity. And rising temperatures could pose a future risk, though how significant of a risk is open to interpretation. . . This is not a liberal invention; it’s physics.

Conservatives should be part of that conversation.    There’s an intellectually credible case to be made that it’s unwise to embrace massive, harmful changes to our economy in the face of significant uncertainties . . .  [yet] to acknowledge global warming does not necessarily lead one to embrace Al Gore’s environmental agenda.

But rather than offer constructive ideas on how to deal with global warming, some conservatives simply deny global warming has occurred. Their concern is that admitting global warming is real opens the door to government restriction on liberty, so it’s simply better to keep the door bolted shut. . .

[Yet] the problem for those who deny global warming is empirical:    Earth’s temperatures have increased and human activity has contributed to it.   To deny this is to deny reality, to subordinate truth to ideology.    And in the long run that can only damage conservatism."

It seems to me that anybody who cares about climate should listen respectfully and engage with people like Wehner who say it is time for conservatives to join the conversation about market-based solutions, rather than pretend that the problem doesn't exist.

Neo-cons are a particularly interesting group in this debate, because they pride themselves on intellectual honesty.   If enough people like Wehner speak up, it makes it easier for rank-and-file conservatives to accept the science without feeling they are betraying their identity or their cause.   

That's exactly why climate misinformers will try to quickly squelch Wehner  for breaking ranks -- and why advocates of an evidence-based approach should rally to his defense.   Check out the comments below his Commentary posts.   Amidst the usual skeptical talking-points and misperceptions about uncertainty, you'll see other commenters stating openly that their main concern is government overreach, and expressing a degree of open-mindedness when they state "I need more evidence" or "I'm still unconvinced." 

Isn't this exactly the audience we need to be engaging with?

[Update 12/22/11:   The debate continues to rage at Commentary online. Editor Jonathan Tobin answered Wehner by arguing that "Conservative Skepticism is Rooted in Environmentalist Hysteria."   Oddly, Tobin tossed in some of the flimsiest arguments possible ("Warming may be good") and indulged in the very hyperbole and ad-hominism that he accuses the "warmers" of.   Wehner replied immediately, with another carefully-reasoned, thoughtful piece that -- citing the IPCC, National Academies of Science, and the US Climate Science Program -- urges conservatives to focus less on the other sides' perceived behavior and more on "those stubborn facts" about climate.   See "Conservatives and Climate:  Facts Should be Our Guiding Star."] 

(This is a cross post from ClimateBites, posted 12-20-11.)

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 75:

  1. For now, and at least the immediate future, it appears that accepting AGW theory results in losing all of one's conservative credentials in the US. AGW theory and this site were primarily responsbile for my own realignment. I suspect Mr. Wehner and others like him understand that any future political platform that denies AGW outright can't be sustained.
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  2. For anyone who hasn't already seen it, Scott Denning's presentation at the ICCC (on youtube) is a direct appeal to conservatives who are stuggling to overcome thier cognitive biases and accept what the science is unequivocally telling us.
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  3. This is very nice -- good to see cracks where facts have a chance to squeeze into the 'conversation'. I would warn about the characterization of NeoCons here, however, because conservatives don't generally see the NeoCons this way. Most conservatives are more influenced by libertarian ideology. Many of these PaleoCons see NeoCons as opportunistic sell-outs who are more than willing to lie to achieve a hidden goal.
    It's still good to see these Commentary articles, but let's make sure they are characterized correctly.
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  4. Contrary to popular opinion, not all of the members of the Republican Party are anti-environment and anti-AGW.

    You can see for yourself by checking out the website of the Republicans for Environmental Protection (RFP).

    In fact, a link to SkS’s own, “The Scientific Guide to Global Warming Skepticism” is prominently displayed on the front page of the RFP’s website.
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  5. Man, great effort but convincing science skeptics (many times all sort of science) is a steep uphill battle. The science is getting more solid by the day, but the problem is that it will require sth. spectacular to happen.
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  6. There will always be a sizable group of those that are "skeptical" for whatever reason. But, I'm more hopeful that empirical reality will eventually trump political expediency, and that conservatives and republicans as a whole will begin to see the societal and political costs of holding positions that ignore empirical reality. I'm just not sure of the time frame - and there is the rub.
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  7. Congressman Bob Inglis (with impeccable conservative credentials) lost his bid for re-election, apparently because he acknowledged the reality of anthropogenic global warming. National Public Radio has an interview with him here:
    http://www.npr.org/2011/12/24/144231819/ousted-by-tea-party-rep-inglis-looks-back
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  8. I don't know whether to be encouraged or dismayed. I am actually counting on the continued denial of conservatives coupled with the increasingly undeniable evidence of the truth to eventually break the backs of the conservatives.

    And case in point of the inability of people to separate "is it happening?" from "what should we do?": The editor argues against an article saying that warming is happening by saying but warming may be good.
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  9. Am I the only one who gets a weird 403 Forbidden when clicking on the link to Tobin's 'Environmentalist Hysteria' article?
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  10. @9 Steve L, no it's a bad link.
    It should be http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2011/12/23/climate-change-conservatives/
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  11. JohnH: Ironic though, that Nixon established the EPA and passed the Clean Air Act; his ideological descendants would eliminate both (among other things - like funding for NOAA and NWS).
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  12. @9 Steve L & @10 Thanks for catching the bad link. It's now repaired. :)

    BW, in addition to Tobin's challenge, be sure to check out Wehner's excellent response, both linked at this follow-up post to the one above:
    A thoughtful conservative -- challenged

    @3 Steve L Good point about not lumping all neo-cons, conservatives and Republicans together. What would you suggest as a more accurate way to characterize Wehner and neo-cons vis-a-vis conservatives?
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  13. @4 John H. -- Good point re: many Republicans. It's worth another post.

    @7 VoxRat re: Inglis. Inglis did not lose "because he acknowledged the reality of AGW," at least according to those closest to the race.

    According to Bob Jones U poli Sci prof Linda Abrams, "it was a sequence of things'...over four years."

    Which of his many breaks with conservative orthodoxy cost him the most? The article concludes: "The answer may well be "D, all of the above," plus a general sense that he wasn't reflecting voters' mood along with the option of a credible candidate that hadn't appeared before, Abrams said."
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  14. Tom: though I consider myself a conservative (I grew up in tar sand land, Alberta), I'm not an expert on conservative thought. Wikipedia is probably better. Having spent a lot of time reading Antiwar.com (libertarian site) in the run-up and prosecution of the Iraq War, I think it's fair to say that a significant fraction of conservatives hate neocons. I think most conservatives are distrustful of big government projects; they are wary of spending money in far away places outside the oversight of their democracy. War is a big government project of the sort that should challenge conservative values, yet neocons support it enthusiastically. Other international interventionism (climate treaty emission targets, trading schemes, and foreign offsets) will I think find more resistance among typically isolationist conservatives than among neocons (who seem to weigh international opportunities and risks differently). Engagement of paleocons in addressing AGW is likely further away, and possibly on a different road, than engagement of neocons. That's my oversimple opinion, if it's of any help.
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  15. It is an election year. The Democrats will use anything including climate change to pursue their political aims and the Republicans will oppose what ever they say.

    It is far easier for conservatives to just deny AGW than to try and fight all the increasing spending, taxing regulations and subsidies to Democrat causes that will be proposed in its name. So they will do it.

    { - off topic political statements snipped -}
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    Moderator Response: [muoncounter] Please restrict your comments to the topic of the post. This is not about politics; it is about a conservative response to climate change science.
  16. It's been moved and seconded that a new way be found to distinguish neo-cons or other intellectually honest conservatives from those who deny science. Apparently the word "agnatology" means "anti-science." I propose that a new term such as "agna-con" or some such commingling of "agnatology" and "conservative" be coined to make this distinction. Less frivolously, I think some way should be found to place a premium on robust dialog with the realistic brand of conservatives - inviting them to the table, relishing the conversation, agreeing to disagree politely where appropriate, and generally making it clear that such discourse is the order of the day. In other words, MARGINALIZE the agna-cons and send the message that, until they've "read the memo" and signed on to the idea that Yes, Virginia, There IS Global Warming, they are the skunks at the garden party.
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  17. Jimspy, I think those promoting promoting policies that fly in the face of both the scientific and economic majorities are practicing deception, plain and simple.

    Hence:

    Decepticon.
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  18. Pertinax's distraction actually summed up the response problem perfectly. Stupidity is intimidated by the nature and foundation of the problem. They don't 'get it', but they do understand 'lefties', 'the menace of socialism', and 'ivory tower parasites'. This is 'their time'.

    If anyone knows a way to demonstrate to them the consequences of their stupidity policies, yesterday would be an excellent time to lay it out.
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  19. A neo-conservative who accepts basic scientific facts and makes rational suggestions?

    Suddenly I think I understand how AGW deniers must feel when confronted with proof that their understanding of 'reality' is flawed in some way. I've gotten too used to these people being 'wrong' about everything... science, economics, foreign policy, social issues (though those are more in the realm of opinion). The last time I really agreed with something they did was when W Bush spoke out against anti-muslim bigotry in the US... and I couldn't believe he was on the right side of that either.

    That said, I think I'm on solid ground saying this guy is the exception rather than the rule. The idea that rational scientific discussion about AGW, evolution, anything environmentally related, et cetera could flourish in any major branch of US 'conservatism' (as much a misnomer as 'skeptics' IMO) seems more than far-fetched.
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  20. CBD - i know a few other 'exceptions to the rule', not 'neocons' but hard core free market conservatives. one is actually taking his company into renewable energy where he sees a big business opportunity.

    nice subversive use of the 'al gore' dog whistle in the excerpt; talking to them in their own language!
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  21. I have to disagree with the moderators.
    Because American politics is so polarised due to fear of the media and big corporations, then writing an article about a conservative politicians views about climate science makes the article political.

    But the problem isn't with the article, the problem is with American politics and that is why the article is justified.
    Statistically there should be more American conservatives that agree with AGW, the fact that there isn't suggests that more than just facts are distorting the stats.
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  22. @ Paul D

    Speaking as an American, Republican-voting conservative who agrees with climate science and AGW, the issue more properly is not that there isn't more American conservatives that agree with AGW. There are ample conservatives who believe in the science (what little they know of it).

    The real issue is that they are not in a position of authority and that they do not speak out. The rank and file American conservative is more preoccupied with job security, keeping the lights on and feeding hungry mouths that depend on them.

    It is thus their elected representatives that have kowtowed to the "special interests" (that have a vested interest in the status quo) that comprise the real stumbling block.

    When you cannot stop the avalanche then preventing the snowballs from rolling downhill that causes the avalanche is the agenda being prosecuted by the lobbyists.
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  23. @13 Tom Smerling: "Inglis did not lose "because he acknowledged the reality of AGW," at least according to those closest to the race."
    Yeah, I got the impression from that NPR piece it was due to the AGW thing, but now that you mentioned it, I read up elsewhere and see that there were other issues.
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  24. DB: "the issue more properly is not that there isn't more American conservatives that agree with AGW"

    The polls say otherwise.

    "their elected representatives that have kowtowed to the "special interests""

    Who was it that said we get the kind of government that we deserve? de Tocqueville:

    ... a democracy could see "a multitude of men," uniformly alike, equal, "constantly circling for petty pleasures," unaware of fellow citizens, and subject to the will of a powerful state which exerted an "immense protective power".

    That is an accurate description of the current state of our government; just substitute 'corporate greed' for 'state.'
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  25. I agree with DB about the messaging from the leadership. The poll numbers that mc cites for republicans who disbelieve AGW really increased over the last decade. It also responded to things like Al Gore's movie, the 2007 IPCC release and "climatgate" reaction. All that indicates the influence of top down messaging (working against other headwinds).

    Basically, I think the recent marketing strategy of the conservative/republican leadership (since ca 1994) has increasignly been to elicit broad populist distrust of targeted issues that can be characterized as elitist, intellectual or liberal. These issues are characterized as attempts to impose a different set of core values on "regular people" or that they reflect self interest on the part of the elite (implicitly at the expense of the regular folk through taxes, regulation).

    The focus on specific ersonalities (Gore, Hillary, Pelosi, Obama) allows them to paint movie villains that fit these preconceptions neatly and provide a focus for distrust. "Scientists", with their white coats, crazy hair and evil laughs, are easy targets too. Linking these personalities to specific issues then becomes a form of branding by association. AGW, Al Gore and Dr. Frankenstein become inseparable.

    It's a strategy that can be applied to a large range of issues with relative ease because it builds on a set of preexisting inclinations and a few carefully crafted characterizations developed over a long period of time. Especially in the current economic climate, it effectively generates anger and activism among the rank and file, while also serving monied special interests that fill the campaign coffers. Its quite brilliant from a purely strategic point of view. The democrats try to mimic it, but I think their rank and file are less susceptible to this approach.

    The problem is that this broad brush strategy generates such wide ranging cynicism about intelligent discourse and such political and social polarization that any basis for policy discussion and compromise gets "boxed in" by partisan fervor, even within the party itself. Also, because the strategy seems to be based primarily on locating convenient targets that elicit both populist distrust of the other party and special interest dollars, reality and policy positions can easily become divorced from each other. Eventually both things make it hard for the leadership to lead in a meaningful way.

    Personally, I think we're seeing the downside in congress and in the Republican primary race right now. The need to resort to transparent tricks like referring to the rich only as "job creators," also highlights the inherent tensions in this appraoch. I'd like to think it will eventually force a reconsideration or recalibration of strategies that will enable conservatives to see the point of embracing the science behind AGW and other issues. But that could be slow.
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  26. I think there is a fundamental difference in how the left and right look at the relationship between mankind and the Earth.

    Some see the Earth essentially as a gift to mankind - one that deserves stewardship and respect, but is essentially for our benefit. On the other hand, some see humans as interlopers mooching off the Earth - so the Earth should be protected from bad human activity.

    Both viewpoints have their irrational extremes - blatant environmental abuse for petty profit on the one hand, and wholesale abuse of human rights on the other...

    If you must make a judgement call, just compare a two of examples: Exxon Valdez spill (~250,000 sea birds, ~3,000 sea mammals) to the banning of DDT in 1972 (~90,000,000 premature deaths, billions suffering from malaria)...

    I believe this dichotomy in viewpoint underpins the difference in the conservative vs. liberal response to AGW.

    Some see fossil fuels (and nuclear...) as a opportunity to benefit mankind - quite a bit of evidence would be needed to convince them to abandon the use without an attractive alternative. The other viewpoint would easily accept that something that benefits humans must be adverse to the environment... and must be stopped.
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  27. guinganbresil wrote: "the banning of DDT in 1972 (~90,000,000 premature deaths, billions suffering from malaria)..."

    Nonsense.

    This is the same kind of ridiculous fiction we regularly see applied to global warming. The 'ban' in 1972 prohibited the use of DDT for agricultural spraying in the United States. How has that caused millions of deaths / billions to suffer malaria? Spraying for public health reasons, i.e. to control malaria, remains legal in the U.S. to this day and the 'ban' never involved any form of spraying outside the US.

    "Some see the Earth essentially as a gift to mankind - one that deserves stewardship and respect, but is essentially for our benefit. On the other hand, some see humans as interlopers mooching off the Earth - so the Earth should be protected from bad human activity."

    Actually, I think most environmentalists see it more in terms of 'do not foul your own nest'.
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  28. The Mencken quote in the following letter-to-the-editor is priceless.

    Paul Krugman’s “Republicans against science” (Views, Aug. 30) states that “odds are that one of these years the world’s greatest nation will find itself ruled by a party that is aggressively anti-science, indeed anti-knowledge.”

    This line reminds me of the great H.L. Mencken’s words in the Baltimore Evening Sun in 1920: “As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people....On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

    Woodrow Wilson was president at the time; to be followed by Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. We all know what happened next.

    Peter W. Gerrard, Kehlen, Luxembourg
    Letters to the International Herald Tribune
    Politics and Science
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  29. This is more than a top-down, leadership-driven issue. Not many (especially those outside the US) may be aware that a fundamental shift in US environmental/political life took place in the November 2010 mid-term elections. An electorate fed up with what they were told was 'big government' was seduced into electing a large number of inexperienced, ideologically-driven folks both as their US representatives and their state government. As a result, environmental policy is now more of a mixed bag of conflicting priorities than ever.

    This report is an excellent summary, providing a context for some of the political struggles on the larger stage.

    Our biggest challenges are: (1) State budget crises that will severely limit environmental agencies’ capacity to implement and enforce the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and other environmental laws; (2) Unprecedented ideological opposition to environmental progress among too many state legislators across the Midwest; and (3) The public’s focus on job creation and retention rather than environmental and other quality of life issues.

    This is an example of the principle that "All politics is local":

    Politicians must appeal to the simple, mundane and everyday concerns of those who elect them into office. Those personal issues, rather than big and intangible ideas, are often what voters care most about...

    Climate change will remain 'big and intangible' - until we figure out a way to make it personal; and that's a tall order, as this year of disastrous weather was very personal indeed.
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  30. Guiganbresil "Both viewpoints have their irrational extremes - blatant environmental abuse for petty profit on the one hand, and wholesale abuse of human rights on the other." Funny, considering that blatant environemental abuse is iself so often associated with Human rights abuse.

    As for that DDT issue, why did you believe the version that you just tried to regurgitate here? How much did you research it?

    Concerning those who supposedly see fossil fuels as an opportunity to benefit mankind, it is patent that the amount of evidence they would need to change their viewpoint is infinite. That seems to be especially the case for those who sit at the top of the pyramid of "benefit."
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  31. Lets stop banging our heads against a wall, trying to convince the climate change deniers. Instead ---- Even the most stubborn conservative can hardly deny that fossil fuel is a non renewable resource, that we are destroying mountains and rivers to get at coal, that we are hostage to some pretty shonky regimes that just happen to have fossil fuel resources, that we are destroying the society of other fossil fuel rich countries by supporting their local Mafia, that we are pumping massive amounts of arsenic, mercury and even radioactivity into the atmosphere from our coal fired power plants etc. etc. The very measures that would address the above problems would also address climate change
    http://mtkass.blogspot.com/2010/10/forget-climate-change.html
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  32. John Hartz @28
    thank for sharing Menken's thoughts, so prescient of contemporary drift of our democracies toward populism. An unwelcome corollary of populism is that who's in office or in charge of something do not take any responsability because he's just representing the will of the people. What Menken ironically call the perfection of democracy actually is the end of it.
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  33. Suggested reading:

    “Capitalism vs. the Climate”, The Nation (USA) magazine, Nov 28, 2011 print edition.

    Click here to access this in-depth and thought-provoking cover story by Naomi Klein.
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  34. Manzi (quoted in Wehner): "Global warming is a real risk, but its impact over the next century could plausibly range from negligible to severe." All us 'alarmists' have been saying is: why gamble with your only home?

    Wehner goes on to claim: "There's an intellectually credible case to be made that it's unwise to embrace massive, harmful changes to our economy in the face of significant uncertainties based on incomplete knowledge of how the climate system will respond in the middle part of the 22nd century." As long as we're talking about 'uncertainties': where does the unanimous conservative 'certainty' of 'massive, harmful changes to our economy' come from? The most credible accounting of these changes, the Stern Review, places the cost at 2% of global GDP, which is 1/5th to 1/20th the cost of doing nothing. And that was before photovoltaic costs started plunging.

    This is what kills me about this 'conversation' we are having with American conservatives. We're so happy to find one of them admitting that AGW is real that we'll publish his claim that until we know, with certainty, what the climate will be 140 years from now, it would be 'unwise' to impose 'certainly harmful' green technologies on poor Americans. Regarding conservative actions over the last 15 years (deregulation of banking, disinterest in derivative and housing bubbles, invasions over 'certain WMD', Supply-Side economics) the most inevitable certainty of all has been the certainty of AGW, the one certainty conservatives still doubt! Wehner, like most of his ilk, plays fast and loose with the concept of 'certainty', and their record is not exactly good.
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  35. Thank you for this excellent contribution on this topic.

    it seems that after BEST the minds in USA and elswhere are changing. See also the excellent article of Susan Hassol at the AGU-Fall meeting 2011 (http://vimeo.com/33298236 ) - I am eager to experience when the GERMAN EIKE is changing their attitudes :)
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  36. guinganbresil @26, I recommend you play DDT ban myth bingo, making sure to follow the links, until you know better than to regurgitate falsehoods about DDT.
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  37. Wehner's 12/22 follow-up post is very disappointing.

    I agree ... that global warming is a manageable risk, not an existential crisis. And I have argued that there are significant uncertainties on how the climate system will respond a century or more from now. But for some on the right ... to insist that AGW is a hoax, the product (more or less) of a massive conspiracy, is, I believe, damaging to conservatism. That is something I do care about.

    This is not about what is damaging to one part of the political spectrum. What you should care about is the fact that inaction due to these perceived uncertainties is exactly what will turn 'manageable risk' into existential crises.

    Contemporary liberalism can do as it will. But for conservatism, facts–those stubborn facts–need to be our guiding star.

    When have facts ever been the guiding star in any ideological debate? Look no further than the tripe put out by the all-conservative-all-the-time American Enterprise Institute, who happily liken those who understand and accept AGW science to a religious cult:

    All the trappings of religion are there. Original sin: Mankind is responsible for these prophesied disasters, especially those slobs who live on suburban cul-de-sacs and drive their SUVs to strip malls and tacky chain restaurants.

    Yep, those stubborn facts. Some guiding star.
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  38. Mr. Wehner has written a thoughtful, intelligent, and well-reasoned essay, and I applaud his honesty and bravery. Furthermore, I agree with many, though not all of his points. It this age of political polarization, with the world being cast in black & white terms, such moderate, and reasonable approaches will be rejected by the extremes at both ends. We have a case of 30-40-30 politics and political thinking. 30% extremists on one side, 40% moderate in the middle, and 30% extremists on the other. Unfortunately, in a bi-polar political reality that America finds itself in, to win an election, you need to cater to enough of your parties 30% to squeak out oa victory. Embracing reasonable views such as Mr. Wehner's, risks losing the 30% you need for a victory.

    Perhaps more than anything, Mr. Wehner and others like him, coming from the "left", prove that more than ever, it's time for a true Independent 3rd Party.
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  39. With respect to R Gates @38, while the 30/40/30 split may indeed hold in American politics, the characterization of liberals as "extremists" is grotesque and defamatory. It is part of the problem in American politics that moderate views such as are held by American liberals are vilified as being extreme. Frankly, anyone who can vilify center left views as extremist turns out, IMO, to be part of the problem. In consequence I can find little to respect in the opinions of R Gates.
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  40. Tom Curtis @ 39: Leaving aside my own political views for a moment, my characterization of the 30% on the left and right ends of the political spectrum as "extremists" is not meant to indicate that those holding this "extreme" positions on the ends of the spectrum may or may not be correct in their positions, and certainly is was not an attempt to vilify anyone. Additionally, your perception that "moderate" views held by "liberals" are indeed that "moderate" comes from your own position on the political spectrum. The 30-40-30 split in American politics is a simple statement of fact, without any desire to suggest that the any one of these positions is right or wrong, nor in need of "vilification". The very fact that I opened my post with the statement that I agree with many of Mr. Wehner's positions ought to indicate that I tend to lean (at least on some issues) somewhere left of center, but certainly someone far right of center might easily label me as "extremist". But I am ultimately a realist, and know that consensus is the only way that America ever moves forward, and thus, in that spirit, I applaud Mr. Wehner, but sadly, America currently is not in a "consensus" mood, though perhaps, with enough disgust at the gridlock in Washington, we shall once more find our way to it.
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  41. R Gates @40:

    "World English Dictionary
    extremist (ɪkˈstriːmɪst)

    — n
    1. a person who favours or resorts to immoderate, uncompromising, or fanatical methods or behaviour, esp in being politically radical

    — adj
    2. of, relating to, or characterized by immoderate or excessive actions, opinions, etc"


    I do not hold with the Humpty Dumpty theory of word mastery, as apparently you do. Instead I use words according to their meaning, and according to its meaning, "extremist" is pejorative and vilifying.

    I am equally inclined to use dichotomies according to their correct meaning. On the basis that Lenin and Trotsky occupied the extreme left of the political spectrum, it is very clear that main stream US politics occurs within a range from center left to a very hard right. (Note this spectrum reflects economic policy, and not the authoritarian-libertarian scale.)


    (See politicalcompass.org)

    Finally, agreement with Mr. Wehner, and certainly not qualified agreement in no way indicates that you are left of center. His stated position in the articles in question amounts only to a qualified acceptance of the science, and scientific fact knows no politics. The most left wing policy position Mr Wehner espouses is the view that,

    " It’s reasonable to argue that a meaningful deal to cut carbon emissions among the worst emitting nations (China, the United States, the EU, India, and Russia among them) is almost surely beyond reach and that our focus should be on adaptation and relatively low-cost investments in technologies rather than drastic carbon cuts."


    Next you'll be asking for credit as a radical lefty because you did not disagree with all of George W Bush's expenditure to help rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
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  42. R Gates said:

    "Furthermore, I agree with many, though not all of his points. It this age of political polarization, with the world being cast in black & white terms..."

    Not the world. Mainly just the US.
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  43. There’s an intellectually credible case to be made that it’s unwise to embrace massive, harmful changes to our economy in the face of significant uncertainties

    I have yet to see an explanation of how a high carbon tax and rebate (e.g. proposed by Hansen) would harm the economy. It would also require a tariff based on the carbon intensity of imports. I think economic harm could come from the political process especially horse trading on tariffs.
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  44. Eric (skeptic) @43, "harm" is a loaded term. There is no question that such a scheme would have costs. First and most obviously it would have administrative costs that would either come from general revenue, or by reducing slightly the rebates, therefore ensuring the rebates did not quite compensate for imposed costs.

    Second, such a scheme would result in a switch to renewable energy/nuclear power generation which have a higher base cost (excluding externalities) than the current fossil fuel mix. Because they are low to zero carbon emission technologies, they would not generate money for the rebate even though their higher costs will feed into the overall cost of electricity. In fact, the more successful the scheme is, the lower the carbon tax contribution to the overall increase in power costs, and hence the lower the rebate as a proportion of increased costs.

    Of course, some of the initial adjustment to higher energy costs will be through increased energy efficiency. Further increased usage of renewables may bring unit costs down so that production costs of energy are below current levels. So it is possible a carbon tax could result in a net benefit economically. But probably it will result in a small cost.
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  45. Tom, I think "harm" often refers to a country disadvantage, hence the need for a carbon-based tariff. Second there is a frictional adjustment and possible recession, but the economy should adjust quickly using the rebate money. I see your point about increased costs although that can be accomodated somewhat by efficiency incentives from the smart grid, incentives to reduce congestion and commuting in general, and energy supplier incentives (tax, regulatory, etc).
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  46. It would be good if more conservatives would agree on the basics, and then at least we could disagree on how to tackle climate change, rather than worry about it being real.

    Still, we probably shouldn't laud any conservatives who accept climate change as real and human caused. It would lower their standing among other conservatives.
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  47. " I think most conservatives are distrustful of big government projects; they are wary of spending money in far away places outside the oversight of their democracy. "

    Perhaps we need to separate 'old' (pre-Thatcherite) conservatives from the modern version. A true conservative was, I believe, originally someone who was skeptical and resistant to change. A good many of them could be reasoned with, however, and would accept change if it was made clear that the facts overwhelmingly supported that change.

    The conservative movement in North America has largely been taken over by people who simply won't accept the data. So I don't see them as conservative in the original sense. Data contrary to their POV are viewed as lies, part of a conspiracy against what they see as the truth. Thus any scientists who produce such data must be part of the conspiracy. The same is true for any economists who dare suggest (with data) that tax cuts are not always a good thing and that public intervention is sometimes a good thing.

    I wonder if this ability to dismiss data traces back to the postmodernist philosophy that invaded universities back in the 60s. Ironically, it was introduced by people of a decidedly leftist view, but it quickly spread throughout much of academia and then into the mainstream. Too bad we can't set the clock back and squash it before it spread.

    I am not sure that libertarians and true conservatives really have much in common. Libertarians are fine examples of where postmodernism can take you. As are the neocons. Both are really radicals, not conservative at all.

    Until something is done to weaken the hold that postmodernism has on public discourse, depending on the facts as a winning strategy is unlikely to be very successful.
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  48. I think R Gates' post reveals a big problem. Wehner does not say much more than scientific facts can not be disagreed upon because they don't fit in ideology.

    But the very fact of aggreeing with that is perceived as leaning "left." That's very alarming. This is truly a behavior that was normally reserved to religious dogma.

    I wish I could say that the left is not guilty of comparable errors in different areas, but these can be found.

    The biggest enemy of mankind in the 21st century may very well be ideology. In the 20th century, ideologies, possibly for the 1st time, killed more people than micro-organisms. Tens of millions of people, between the 2 world wars battlefields, Staline, Franco, etc, etc. Now we've balked a little at the savagery of these manifestations, but others are creeping up on us.

    If we don't stop being so enamored of our beautiful ideological constructs that we have to force-fit reality in them by all sorts of self-fooling methods, we don't stand a chance as a species in the long term.
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  49. Philippe Chantreau, ideology didn't kill all those people, other people did. The followers were just following, not acting out of ideology. And the only true ideology of the leaders was power- and blood-lust.
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  50. rdr95 @47 as absurd as some trends in post modernism are, they are not the root of the problem. The root of the problem is a fundamentalist brand of Christianity that is very common in the United States and which teaches that the Earth is very young (< 10,000 years), that evolution never happened and that biological and geological scientists have been indulging in a massive century long fraud to teach a "lie". To sustain these beliefs these Christians have needed themselves how to avoid clear thinking on science, and how to allow ideology to trump rational thought. Having so taught themselves, it becomes second nature when it comes to discussion of climate science.

    It is not coincidence that the Republican Party cultivated just those Christians as a constituency over the last two decades of the 20th century, and that now the Republican Party is the bastion of anti-science sentiment in the US. Nor is it a coincidence that Europe in which that (strictly heretical) brand of Christianity was never strong is largely immune to the anti-science rhetoric of deniers. Indeed, Europe provides an interesting test case on this point, for Europe was the bastion of post-modernism as the US was the bastion of Christian Fundamentalism.

    Please note that my comments are not an attack on Christianity per se, but only a comment on a branch of Christianity that has departed far from the teachings of Jesus.
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