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The danger in Republican climate denial

For Republicans, denial is a river that is rapidly running dry. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Thursday, June 27, 2013 - Just Enough for the City by Chris Ladd

CHICAGO, June 28, 2013 ― Climate change is an issue so uniquely suited to the needs of the dying global left that it feels too perfectly tailored to be a coincidence. We are being asked to accept that the accumulating exhaust of the Industrial Revolution is cranking up the planet’s thermostat, threatening to turn our blue marble brown unless we all decide to ride bikes and eat bugs. Climate change sounds very much like a dead Hippie’s revenge.

Republicans can’t be blamed for harboring skepticism, but we must realize that our strategy of blind blanket denial is developing into a political suicide pact. The Obama Admnistration’s plans to begin an aggressive national carbon reduction program without input from Congress highlights the growing political risks. We must find a smarter approach to this problem while we still have time.

SEE RELATED: President Obama’s climate initiative: The bad news and good news

The Earth’s climate is getting warmer and our carbon emissions are a factor in that heating. There is no credible scientific consensus that questions those two facts.

We must stop wheeling in crank “scientists” who deploy tactics borrowed from the tobacco industry to “debunk” the credible research on climate change. Once we accept those two undisputed realities there is an absolute wonderland of ambiguities waiting. That is the realm where real uncertainty lies and where the policy response to climate change can still be shaped.

For example how much, exactly, of the Earth’s warming can be attributed to human activity? Perhaps most of it, but no precise figure can be agreed on. How much warmer will it get and under what circumstances? Three researchers can give you five answers.

Let’s not forget the most troubling unanswered question: How much do we need to reduce our carbon output to achieve a specific decline in warming? No one can respond with confidence, let alone precision. Some scientists expect that regardless what action we take, it may take centuries to mitigate the impact of human-influence on climate change.

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So how do we address policy questions like whether to implement a carbon tax? Conservatives will lose the credibility required to even participate in that and other policy debates if we continue to tolerate the absurd notion that climate change is a hoax.

On a political level, Republicans must not confuse climate change with other science vs. belief issues. On this issue public opinion will eventually move in the direction of established facts regardless of how much distortion we generate.

We can give hedged answers on the age of the universe with little consequence. Denying the reality of evolution won’t cause anyone to lose their favorite beach house, or for that matter, their favorite island. Climate change, on the other hand, is becoming apparent enough to the average layman to affect their holiday plans. We cannot swim against this scientific tide much longer.

When public opinion comes into line with the established science, our denialist position will cost us our opportunity to participate in shaping policy. We are setting ourselves up for a sudden, catastrophic political collapse which could spread beyond this single issue.

SEE RELATED: Humanity and the carbon economy: Is it too late?

Ironically, conservatives are probably in the best position of anyone to shape sensible responses to this problem. America over the past decade scored a shocking, yet hardly noted achievement which hard-core climate activists in the 90’s would have thought nearly impossible. We slashed our carbon emissions by nearly 10 percent. In fact, by 2020 we are on track to meet all of the emissions reductions envisioned by the cap and trade program that we did not implement.

These reductions are not primarily caused by the recession. The reasons for the drop are far more awkward for both sides of our political divide.

The largest factor in the reduction of US greenhouse gas emissions has been an aggressive natural gas drilling campaign sparked by fracking. That’s right. If you love Mother Earth and worry about climate change you should come down from that tree and hug a roughneck.

This shift toward natural gas will not be enough by itself to achieve the kind of carbon reductions that are probably necessary over the long term, but it points to a reality forgotten in this debate. As in most cases, cautious conservative approaches to this problem will likely be more successful than heavy-handed central planning.

Instead of chaining ourselves to denialism, conservatives could be promoting solid science, calming the alarmists, and shaping climate policies that harness the power of private enterprise and respect property rights. If Democrats are free to define the response to climate change purely in terms of energy austerity and central planning, the world will be poorer and we will suffer much more from the effects of warming.

Real solutions are much more likely to emerge from technology and markets than from centrally imposed want, but conservatives cannot participate in shaping these alternatives if the party allows itself to be defined politically by a pack of ridiculous cranks. Categorical climate denial might be the single greatest threat to the long term future of the conservative movement.

For the Republican Party in the U.S., denial is a river that is rapidly running dry.

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Chris Ladd

Chris Ladd is a Texan who is now living in the Chicago area.  He is the founder of Building a Better GOP and has served for several years as a Republican Precinct Committeeman in DuPage County, IL, and was active in state and local Republican campaigns in Texas for many years. 

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