Saturday, October 11, 2014

A conservative response to climate change

Climate change is in the news again, with the liberals renewing their call for collectivist action, and the anti-science branch of conservative practicing various forms of do-nothingness.  As a goal-oriented, pro science conservative, I am not really comfortable with either of these approaches. And the lack of a broad tent conservative response irks me, so I suggest we go with the following, simple yet powerful principle as a sensible, potentially unifying response to climate change:

No climate bailouts.

This is a good conservative approach for the following reasons:

1. It is uniting.  Under this approach, it doesn't matter if you believe in climate change or not.  Those who do not can oppose climate bailouts with the same principles which impel them to oppose bailouts for unicorn farmers.  So we can all stop arguing about climate science and respect each other’s differences.

2. It differentiates us from the liberals.  Al Gore and his ideological descendants basically push the following line: “Global Warming means we have to all turn into collectivists”  Needless to say, this upsets a lot of people.  By denying bailouts, we are placing the costs and risk assessment firmly in the hands of the polluters.  The market is the best way to determine the probability of climate change, and the associated cost.  Let the polluters deal with insurance and risk assessment and lawsuits associated with potential damages. While any costs will of course be passed on to consumers, if those costs are too high, then we can buy our energy from a non-polluting source.  That’s how free markets work.  The important thing is that it does not commit us to open ended government spending to bail out polluters.

3. It is flexible.  Drawing a line in the sand on bailouts does not prevent public or private action. There are many creative ways in which governments, companies, and people can tackle climate change and save money instead of spending it.  Whether it is streamlining approval processes or increasing government energy efficiency or requiring utilities to compete for the lowest energy price available, the list of potential actions goes on.  Similarly, this approach allows principled, can-do compromise on climate action, provided that the core principle remains intact.

There are several other proposals for how conservatives should react to the climate change issue.  While they are sensible, none are this simple.  Polluters have known about the possibility of climate change ever since Al Gore was thin and dark haired.  They’ve had plenty of time to study the issue and prepare based on the most likely outcomes.  If they are not competent to do that, then they don’t deserve to be propped up with our hard-earned money.


Steve Gough said...

Where to start? First, any serious student of economics knows that market failures are everywhere, and none more obvious and real than in environmental management. Our great cities were teaming with filth by the Civil War, and quickly learned no market fix would stop tanners from dumping carcasses in the nearest river. This is elementary stuff. Today, I'm sure my 14 mpg-SUV-driving Midwestern neighbor is not going to care when Florida goes under; even $4 a gallon gas has not made a dent here. Read this and learn that even the Chicago Board of Trade quickly learned it had to regulate to stop such practices as cornering the market (e.g. by individuals buying whole trains of wheat on the edge of town).

Conservative "do nothings?" Far from it, the GOP actively supports (or at least fails to deny) members calling climate change a "hoax," and routinely uses this stance to win elections. They're doing something -- using our future as a political football in the most crass, irresponsible, and dishonest way possible. Did you miss the ridiculous "melting ice in my glass doesn't cause it to overflow.." and other bullshit in a House hearing last week? Stewart didn't.

I'd be thrilled if American conservatives would just do nothing, then we could do something.

Chris Phoenix said...

"By denying bailouts, we are placing the costs and risk assessment firmly in the hands of the polluters."

Your post seems to assume that the costs of climate change will be assignable. But it seems crystal-clear that they are not. The fuel we burn today may intensify a storm or a flood tide three decades from now.

No one will be able to sue Exxon, or any other company, for damage that occurs three decades in the future. The threat of "no bailouts" is completely hollow, because there is no financial risk.

Am I missing something?