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Rohrbacher Is Hurting the Intellectual Credibility of Conservatism

Representative Dana Rohrbacher’s offense isn’t on par with what his colleague Blake Farenthold said, but it was problematic in its own right.

Mr. Rohrbacker told his constituents that global warming is a “total fraud” that is part of a wider liberal conspiracy. “That’s what their game plan is,” Rohrbacher said. “It’s step by step by step, more and bigger control over our lives by higher levels of government. And global warming is simply that strategy in spades.”

I’ve written before on the matter of climate change (see here and here), so there’s no need to once again rehearse in detail my arguments. I’m fully aware of some of the radical elements that exist within the environmentalist movement. Still, the argument that global warming is a “total fraud” is simply wrong–and the implication that all climate scientists (and others) who believe in global warming are either part of a gigantic liberal conspiracy or useful idiots is ludicrous. 

We know that the concentration in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide has increased markedly during the past 150 years, that humans have been responsible for a significant increase in atmospheric CO2 over the past two centuries, and that as a result, the earth has gotten warmer.

At the same time, there’s a good deal of uncertainty based on future climate projections and what needs to be done. As the conservative Jim Manzi has pointed out, pumping out more CO2 triggers an incredibly complicated set of feedback effects, one we don’t fully understand. And the fact that over the past 15 years air temperatures at the Earth’s surface have been flat while greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to soar has puzzled intellectually honest climate scientists. Earth may be less sensitive to CO2 emissions than previously believed.

As we move forward, let’s hope the discussion about climate change is not dominated by ideologues on either side. The discussion should be calm, reasonable, and empirical. We can do without the mocking arrogance that characterizes both extremes. And there’s no need for climate change to be a weapon in the culture wars.

As for conservatives, they can write intelligently on climate change. Or they can sound like Dana Rohrbacher. For the sake of the intellectual credibility of conservatism, I hope we see more of the former and less of the latter.


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