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Conservatives’ Warming Skepticism Rooted in Environmentalist Hysteria

My colleague Peter Wehner’s two posts (here and here) on the question of conservatives and climate change were, as we have come to expect from him, thoughtful and the result of serious contemplation. It behooves all those who venture an opinion about the subject of the environment and the debate over global warming to examine the question as carefully as he has and to express themselves with as much circumspection and respect for opposing views as Peter has done. It is no small compliment to Peter that the numerous responses to his posts we have published have, for the most part, been both intelligent and serious attempts to engage on the issue.

Nevertheless, I think it is unfair to blame conservatives for playing an obstructionist role in the debate about what we now call “climate change” rather than the more inflammatory “global warming.” If, as Peter would like, there is to be a constructive discussion about efforts that would supposedly ameliorate a potential problem, what is needed from those promoting the theory of global warming is the same level of sober reflection and suggestions rooted in evidence that he would like conservatives to adopt.

Peter is right to say it is foolish for conservatives to adopt a position that the globe cannot be getting warmer and that it is impossible for humans to be contributing to this situation. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of life on this planet during just the last 2,000 years of recorded history knows that climate change has occurred several times during this period. And it is certainly possible that the amount of carbon dioxide produced by human activity might play a role in any warming in the last century.

But given the apocalyptic scenarios routinely put forward by warming hysterics such as Al Gore and the level of invective that the political left has consistently spewed in response to even the most reasonable of questions about their assertions, it has been difficult for conservatives to avoid responding in kind. Because so much of the talk about warming has been coached in terms that are the stuff of science fiction rather than real world science in which competing interests can be weighed against each other, it’s also been hard for skeptics to get too worked about a problem they know isn’t as bad as Gore or the worst of the screamers about the issue claim. The planet may be getting a bit warmer, but the notion that it is melting or that life here will be made substantially worse for the vast majority of Earth’s inhabitants is not only not proved, it may be more of a case of wishful thinking by some warmers than anything that can be termed science.

Even more to the point is the fact that many of the warming polemics have been motivated not so much by “science” as by an ideological predisposition by some to view capitalism and the prosperity-producing economic activity that it has generated as inherently sinful. Some on the right may be in denial about the possibility of warming. But it is the pseudo-religious spirit always lurking behind so much environmentalist rhetoric that has provoked most of the skepticism about their theories. Their inflexibility and willingness to either doctor the evidence or simply lie about it has undermined their credulity, a factor that has understandably led the public to doubt the truth of their assertions about what science really says.

Moreover, they also know the prescriptions for fixing warming are primarily focused on restricting the market and economic freedom. The ideological fervor of the warmers smacks of previous attempts by intellectuals to dictate economic practices and the basic organizing principles of human activity. Because we know those efforts were the product of the hubris of the intellectuals and led inevitably to sorrow and often slaughter, it is little wonder that, as Peter says, many prefer to simply shut the door on the possibility of a repeat of such miseries. The vagaries of nature may be awful but so, too, are those of humans when in the grips of ideological passions. That is especially true as even the environmental lobby can offer no guarantee that warming will cease even if we adopted every one of their extreme prescriptions.

Since none of the solutions that have been proposed seem either practical or politically feasible and are rooted more in a neo-socialist belief that First World economies and capitalists must be made to pay for their sins, few can be surprised about the unwillingness of many Americans to simply bow to the dictates of what they are told is the unalterable verdict of science.

Just as troubling is the notion that warming is an inherent evil. In the past, a warming climate has led to greater food production and periods of growth and prosperity while cooling was associated with poverty and scarcity. While there may be a case to be made that warming will hurt more people the next time, it is rarely, if ever, presented. Like so much else about the case for global warming alarm, the dangers are more assumed than proven.

Rather than the onus being on conservatives to bow to the dictates of warming science, it is the responsibility of those who wish to convince skeptics to make their case in a more accountable fashion. The problem with the debate about warming is not so much a matter of denial or hyper-skepticism on the part of conservatives as it is with the warmers’ tendency to transform theories and computer models into a catechism. The environment hasn’t just been politicized. It has become a pseudo-religion with intellectual high priests who treat themselves as a Magisterium that may dispense absolution (cap and trade) and punish non-believers. Instead of engaging with skeptics, warmers have treated those who question them as heretics to be ostracized and/or rhetorically burned at the stake.

So long as that is the case, the assertion that conservatives are playing the role of obstructionists won’t advance the debate. Rather than waiting for conservatives to find a way to accommodate warming theories to the principles of a free society, the onus remains on the environmental alarmists to present more reasoned and truthful interpretation of their data and practical suggestions not based in ideologies that have nothing to do with science.