D. R. Tucker: Can the GOP Face Climate Reality? (or any reality?)
August 3, 2011
In “Confessions of a Climate Change Convert”, D. R. Tucker explained the change in consciousness that came to a conservative writer after seriously looking at the evidence for anthropogenic climate change. That post was a popular one, and I asked D.R. to let me know if he had any other insights into the conservative rejection of science and reason – and how we might turn it around.
Fear of State
by D.R. Tucker
The year’s most provocative political book is not Ann Coulter’s Demonic or David Mamet’s The Secret Knowledge. Ironically, Michael Stafford’s An Upward Calling: Politics for the Common Good is provocative precisely because it is non-confrontational. If you’ve read years of aggressive agitprop from the likes of Mark Levin and Michelle Malkin, you’ll be shocked by how calm Stafford’s book is.
Stafford, a former Delaware Republican Party official, calls on the GOP to reconsider its ideologically blinkered stance on a number of issues, including illegal immigration, capital punishment and tax reform. However, his call for the GOP to move away from its obsession with denying the reality of climate change is most striking: Stafford urges the party to issue a declaration of independence from ignorance.
“Today,” Stafford writes, “the GOP’s legacy of leadership on environmental issues is often forgotten. Instead, we have become the party opposed to the anthropogenic global warming ‘hoax.’ Environmentalism has become, for some conservatives, a dirty word, tinged with the negative connotations of a statist, anti-growth (or even anti-human), radical agenda…[However], there is no debate in the scientific community about whether the Earth is warming – it is. There is also a nearly unanimous consensus that human activity is responsible for this warming…[that] it will probably have a significant negative impact on human civilization and the natural world, and that there are practical steps that could be taken now to avoid this fate. Given the potential implications for humanity, it is reckless to ignore the broad scientific consensus on AGW. Doing so in the face of this evidence is tantamount to an abdication of both our duty to future generations and our duty to care for the natural world.”
The Republican Party has no rational basis for opposing climate science. Much of the opposition—the opposition that isn’t influenced by campaign donations from oil and gas interests, of course!—is based on two ideas: strongly held libertarian views and an unyielding contempt for Al Gore. Those who come to climate denial because they’re repelled by regulation and still see Gore as the “Vice Perpetrator” (to use Rush Limbaugh’s infamous quote) should ask themselves the following question:
What if Al Gore had never been born, and President Reagan, in the years between his departure from the Oval Office and his announcement that he was battling Alzheimer’s disease, had urged conservatives to take the fight against climate change seriously?
Imagine if Reagan had delivered speeches similar to Margaret Thatcher’s 1989 and 1990speeches on combating climate change, suggesting that this was a cause beyond the threshold of partisan politics, and that the threat of a warming planet imperiled conservatives and progressives equally. What if Reagan had heeded Dr. James Hansen’s June 1988 call for action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and encouraged members of his party to seek alternate energy routes?
Would conservatives have dismissed “Ronaldus Magnus” as a crank, or would they have listened to his words?
Reagan signed the Montreal Protocol to phase out CFCs because he recognized that all the libertarian ideology in the world doesn’t mean much when the world is being damaged. For all the controversies about Reagan’s environmental record, it’s clear that with regard to the dangers of CFCs, he recognized that scientific facts were more important than political theories.
What if Reagan had declared that protecting future generations was a cause important enough to justify a deviation from libertarian thinking? What if the “Great Communicator” had communicated the necessity of moving away from fossil fuels? Would that have been enough to tear down the right’s walls of denial?
Remember when Limbaugh and Sen. James Inhofe praised Michael Crichton for writing State of Fear, whichflagrantlydistortedscience to suggest that concerns about climate change are cooked up? Looking back, it’s clear that by embracing State of Fear, Limbaugh and Inhofe were demonstrating their own fear of state—a profound reluctance to accept the reality of climate change, and the legitimacy of the government’s role in addressing this problem.
This is a fear I had to confront. It took some time for me to accept the notion that some form of governmental regulation is appropriate to reduce carbon emissions. I ultimately had to concede the point Sen. John Kerry made in his April 2007 climate debate with Newt Gingrich—that there’s no such thing as a free-market solution to the problem of climate change.
If only the conservative argument regarding climate change had been built around the notion of reducing carbon emissions while causing the least amount of disruption to the US economy, rather than being built around the notion that it’s some nefarious plot cooked up by George Soros and Carol Browner. Perhaps we’d get somewhere. One can’t help wondering if conservatives would have joined the fight if Reagan had encouraged them to.
Ronnie’s no longer around, but Stafford is, calling on the American right to recognize that conservation is conservative. Is this truth too inconvenient for today’s Republican Party? It won’t take long to find out.
Tucker isn’t the only conservative concerned about the disconnect between the GOP and climate science reality. Former G. W. Bush speechwriter David Frum is another —
for instance, publishing this piece by Jim Dipeso and David Jenkins…
Let’s talk about heat. As anyone living in Washington—or in about three-fourths of the nation for that matter—has surely noticed, this summer has been unusually hot. In fact, July’s heat was unrivaled in 140 years of Washington, D.C. weather record-keeping.
This year’s record heat across much of the country is not the only sign that something is amiss with our climate. This year, we have also experienced record-breaking droughts, flooding, and storms.
Now, what do temperature extremes have to do with political extremes?
The politics of environmental stewardship, and climate stewardship in particular, is as polarized as it has ever been. The sober warnings of climate scientists are attacked and ridiculed by radicals who know a lot less about climate science than they think they do. As then-Congressman Bob Inglis quipped at a House hearing last year: “They slept at a Holiday Inn Express last night and they’re experts on climate change.”
In the 1980s, when some of these same radicals similarly pooh-poohed warnings from scientists about the link between depletion of our stratospheric ozone layer and certain industrial chemicals, we had a conservative president who chose prudence over radicalism and addressed the problem forthrightly.
In siding with the experts and pushing through the Montreal Protocol, Ronald Reagan was being a true conservative and a no-nonsense leader. He was wise enough to separate ill-informed opinion from reliable, science-based information. As he once said, “Facts are stubborn things.”
So, as you walk around stewing and sweating in this summer’s record heat, you might consider getting steamed up a bit at the radical pundits and politicians who are increasing the likelihood that you will be doing more of the same in future summers.
As further evidence of how far out of touch today’s right wing is on climate, you need only listen to the latest Limbaugh rant.