Republicans and climate change: not conservative at all

They’re unanimous: letting the planet fry is preferable to letting the EPA do its job under the law.

1. The Environmental Protection Agency, having been told by the Supreme Court that its authority under the Clean Air Act to determine what forms of air pollution threaten public health – and regulate them accordingly – includes the effects of greenhouse-gas emissions on public health, proposes to move ahead to limit GHG emissions, since the science linking GHG to warming and warming to harms to health is not in legitimate dispute.

2. Lisa Murkowski (R-Pipeline) offers a “resolution of disapproval,” under which the Congress can veto regulatory actions. Since EPA hasn’t proposed specific regulations, in effect the resolution constitutes a finding that GHG emissions don’t endanger health.

3. All forty-one Senate Republicans, joined by six Blue Dogs, vote that black is white.

Yes, there are better ways to regulate GHG emissions than Clean Air Act-style regulations. Carbon taxation is obviously better, as are some but not all versions of cap-and-trade. But the Republicans are against those, too. They’re voting to let the planet fry.

Under no sane use of language can that position be called “conservative.” It’s an appalling radical gamble that some unknown mechanism will turn out to mitigate the otherwise straightforward conclusion that if we keep raising the fraction of incident solar energy that is retained in the atmosphere rather than re-radiated something very bad will eventually happen.

Every time Democratic officeholders make me wonder why I remain a Democrat, Republican officeholders remind me. Thanks, I guess.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

17 thoughts on “Republicans and climate change: not conservative at all”

  1. Well, GHG emissions DON'T cause harmful health effects, not at the concentrations we're talking about. They're simply not that toxic.

  2. Carbon Dioxide dissolves into water, raising the acidity.

    This harms the health of various shelled creatures.

    In addition to other effects that scientists foresee regarding temperature on the earth.

  3. Regarding the temperature of the Earth, I would argue that, unless the EPA has the authority to ban heating and air conditioning, and order mass migrations from the Northern and Southern states to the middle of the country, environmental temperatures are beyond it's authority. You've got a bit better argument with regards to acidity effecting some animals, something that's on stronger ground than global warming. Of course, salt water life is also effected by variations in salinity… Wonder when the EPA is going to claim authority over rain that falls on the ocean?

  4. Brett, what part of "anthropogenic" do you not understand? If people are destroying the environment, and we know how to slow or stop it, does it matter that it's a slow process and that each individual contribution is small? Isn't it the job of the EPA to protect the environment from preventable human actions?

  5. You know divorce leads to global warming, right? Al Gore is now contributing further to the destruction of planet earth.

  6. My understanding was that the CAA was purposefully broadly drawn in this respect, & doesn't stipulate, for example, that only toxic emissions can be "air pollution agents."

  7. Warren, what part of "Parts of the Earth are already warm, being warm is not a "harm"" don't YOU understand? Shifting the climate zones 50 miles north is not the stuff of nightmares. Anything more is NOT settled science.

  8. There are parts of the earth that are lead mines too. Doesn't make it nifty to live next to an abandoned battery factory.

    Shifting of the oceans upward will, in fact, increase the salinity of our ground water, which should be covered by various EPA laws also.

    At some point when enough scientists are saying "Hey, I think there's a cliff ahead!", you step on the brakes a little to slow down even though you can't see it.

  9. Brett Bellmore is saying shifting climate zones 50 miles north is not the stuff of nightmare. What is interesting about this is two things: 1) the admission that global warming is in fact occurring and that its results will be significant; and 2) the quaint fantasy that a some kind of climatological brake exists that will contain it with a barrier located "50 miles north." I hardly see any need to detail the inherent absurdity of this position.

    As to my prediction: The time is almost here when global warming / climate change deniers will realize that they have been wrong. But they won't say "we've been wrong, our bad. Let's work together to solve this." Instead they will say "Al Gore and the environmental extremists have been behind the policies that caused these problems and perpetuate them." The first salvos for this argument have been fired by Ms. Palin, with her argument that environmental advocates are to blame for the gulf disaster, because of their interest in protecting wilderness areas like ANWR from the harms invariably associated with oil exploration. Stay tuned for more of the same.

  10. The EPA enforcement is Plan B if the corporate-sponsored and corporate-friendly Cap'n Trade bill doesn't pass. You would think Rs would want Waxman-Markey to pass, so their pet Corporations can game the system to their advantage to keep polluting without paying.. Waxman-Markey: good for corporations, and that's conservative! Carbon Regulation: bad for corporations & a job loser, and that's liberal!

  11. There's no "brake", there's simply the fact that the uncontroversial direct effect of CO2 is fairly minor, to get to really scary temperature changes, you need to invoke large positive feedback mechanisms which are NOT well established.

  12. It's an analogy Brett.

    To spell it in the analogy the 'brake' is putting less CO2 into the air.

    The 'cliff' is dramatic changes in the weather and temperature patterns.

    It's a risk analysis question, and what steps are reasonable to take at what stage.

    We're in the 'there may be a problem' phase. Because there are such long lead times for changes that would be needed in case there is a really big problem, it means we have to act before the proof is in.

    From a risk / benefit point of view, you would aim at remedial steps that would have other, additional benefits, while also putting of the potential day of reckoning till we get better data. Or steps that are easy to reverse if the risk turns out to be exaggerated. Like a carbon tax.

  13. From a risk benefit point of view, we'd immediately spike bio-fuel efforts, de-emphasize most 'alternative' energy sources, and start building nukes. Because we know nukes work, won't destabilize the power grid, or compete with human food supplies.

    The problem with a lot of the proposed 'solutions' to global warming, is that the harm they'd cause is actually more certain than the warming.

  14. Well Brett, there is some room to compromise then.

    I'll buy off on increased Nuke plants, though I have doubts if that will suffice as a world-wide solution, you can buy off on an improved continent wide power grid to distribute power better. Add in a modest carbon / GHG tax that gets sent into energy research & dividends, and it's a good first step.

  15. I'm rather nervous about a continent wide power grid. It does kind of imply continent wide blackouts, you know…

  16. "Well, GHG emissions DON’T cause harmful health effects, not at the concentrations we’re talking about."

    An individual cigarette doesn't cause harmful health effects.

    An individual drop of morphine doesn't cause harmful health effects.

    An individual low-level dose of arsenic doesn't cause harmful health effects either, but when your "lover" keeps putting those doses in your morning OJ, well . . .

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