About that emerging right-wing divide on climate change

Published online 9 April 2015.

In a recent piece posted to the Grist website, David Roberts tells us that “there’s an emerging right-wing divide on climate change.”

Now I suppose that by “right wing” Roberts means Republicans, because of course all of the Important People want to give the Democrats some space to claim that they are not conservatives.

Even so, I wanted more evidence from Roberts that this was in fact a “divide.”  I felt reinforced in my belief that Republicans have no solid opinions on climate change, but rather that they have a knee-jerk reaction to anything like climate change that would threaten their precious capitalist system (as Naomi Klein points out at the beginning of her book This Changes Everything).  What appears to be most prominently the case is that prominent Republicans are backtracking on claims that climate climate change isn’t happening, or that it isn’t caused by human beings.  They’re starting to waffle on denial claims.  This appears most prominently in the Dana Milbank piece which Roberts cites.  Here’s Dana Milbank:

But on Christmas Eve, Justin Haskins, a blogger and editor at Heartland, penned an article for the conservative journal Human Events declaring: “The real debate is not whether man is, in some way, contributing to climate change; it’s true that the science is settled on that point in favor of the alarmists.”

There’s also the issue of ALEC threatening to sue people who argue that it’s a denier organization, which I suppose is a landmark too.At any rate, the new status quo after the forthcoming “conservative” (i.e. Republican) shift in position is laid out best in Roberts’ conclusion:

Conservatives don’t need to deny that the healthcare system sucks to fight all healthcare solutions; they don’t need to deny that the immigration system sucks to fight all immigration solutions. Why should they need to deny climate change to fight all climate solutions?They don’t. Denialism has just become an unnecessary distraction, one that’s hurting them culturally. They are better off just opposing any bill or regulation that comes up on the usual grounds: big government, overreach, economic misery, blackouts, blah blah. That kind of thing has worked for decades and there’s no reason it couldn’t work against climate solutions too.

So here is my question, for Roberts and others: where are these “climate solutions” that the “conservatives” (read: Republicans) are so interested in opposing?  By “climate solutions” here I don’t mean symbolic stuff that is meant to improve the resumes of legislators without doing anything about the problem.  Those are career solutions, not climate solutions.  The important thing about non-solutions is that they create lots of glorious tempests in lots of pricey teapots while things get worse.  Let’s argue forever about cap-and-trade systems which won’t solve the problem, y’know.  Or maybe we can improve fuel efficiency standards without recognizing Jevons’ Paradox, or we can set up climate change information centers which recommend more insufficient stuff, or something like that.Let’s start with the fundamental principle any and every “climate solution” must have: keeping the grease in the ground.  If it isn’t extracted, it won’t be burned.  So here’s how it could work, in the most reformist, meat-axe way I can spell it out:

1) Every nation on Earth, as cemented by treaty, nationalizes its oil and coal and tar-sands reserves.

2) Every nation on Earth, as cemented by treaty, phases out its oil and coal and tar-sands production.

3) Everyone receives free solar panels or windmills or other non-fossil-fuel energy devices.  (This will also be cemented by treaty.)

If the Republicans don’t like this solution, well, I’m sure they can put up their usual bluster about socialism and the free market being God and all that.  The thing is that, since very few people are really proposing it, the Republicans need not expend any energy opposing it.  So in reality the Republicans need not cling to climate change denial, not because real solutions involve some degree of that “socialism” which said Republicans so hate, but because real-solution denial is the status quo nearly everywhere.

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