Here’s a passing thought on the politics of global warming. David Brooks, in a column that I otherwise found reasonably persuasive in its main argument, proposed a rather odd claim:
An oppositional mentality set in: if the liberals worried about global warming, it was necessary to regard it as a hoax.
The problem with this, besides treating reasonable skepticism as reflexive opposition, is that the debate on global warming, or “climate change” as it is more irenically called these days, has focused on the reality of the phenomenon mostly as an arguing tactic to undermine support for the proposed solutions. From there the debate shifted away from the reality of climate change, which I think most informed conservatives accept to one degree or another, to the question of causes. Obviously, if the phenomenon isn’t real, there’s no reason to do anything, and if it is real but humans are not a significant cause we are no position to prevent it by changing behaviour. Certainly, if climate change is happening (and I think it is), it will have real effects on weather and temperature patterns, just as past changes in the climate have done, and these are things for which we should be preparing. But talk of hoaxes misses the main point, as does much of the argument over whether the phenomenon is anthropogenic, which is that conservatives have and will continue to oppose the “solutions” to global warming whether or not they acknowledge its reality, because they do not see climate change as the cause of impending cataclysms, much less on the scale portrayed by alarmists. Barack Obama, ever the conciliatory figure, routinely refers to “the planet in peril,” which is roughly the liberal fearmongering equivalent of Republicans who go on and on about the “existential threat” from jihadism.
The reaction against this kind of fearmongering, which has unfortunately been one of the main ways most Americans have become familiar with the question, is a natural skepticism about and hostility to granting regulatory agencies the kind of power needed to enforce the reduction in emissions that is being demanded. The use of emergency to promote state power is not unique to this question or to one party, and again it finds a parallel in the alarmism about the jihadi threat. Both alarmisms stem from a loss of perspective, a conviction that a major issue on which one party believes itself to have a significant advantage is one of the most, if not the most, important issues of the age and a sense of urgency that unless citizens surrender to the government whatever it demands in the emergency the world, or civilisation, or our way of life, will be irreparably damaged if not destroyed. The Kyoto skeptics occupy the same ground vis-a-vis their opponents that civil libertarians and antiwar folks occupy vis-a-vis the “existential threat” alarmists in that they can recognise the reality of a problem, even a serious problem, and believe that it needs to be addressed, but they refuse to adopt absolutist and fanatical stances on the question when these make no sense and when they may actually do nothing to address the problem at hand.