The Concession Question

Jim Geraghty stirred up a minor hornet’s nest yesterday with this post on Republican tactics on global warming. After coming in for some pretty heavy criticism from none other than Rush Limbaugh, he posted again here and here. Roy Spencer, who advises Rush on the science, weighed in below, but to my mind the reason why the debate has become so fractious is because the left has been so successful at muddying the waters over global warming. When people say that there’s a hoax about global warming, what do they mean? Do they mean that there is no evidence that temperatures are increasing? Probably not — no one I know disputes that fact, although there are serious question marks over the reliability of the surface temperature measurements. Yet the satellite record is clear that the world is warming.

No, what is objected to is the idea that global warming will be catastrophic unless we do something about it now that involves a complete abandonment of affordable energy and a return to central planning. As Margaret Thatcher, who was the first world leader to express concern about global warming, said, global warming is proving to be “a marvelous excuse for international socialism.” It’s that excuse angle that is the crux of the matter. Things are being exaggerated, as the British High Court found with Al Gore’s film, in the name of this realignment. That’s where conservatives see the penny disappearing in this particular game of three-card monty, and they need to call foul when they see it.

Moreover, as Jim concedes, the American public’s worries about global warming are skin-deep. In point of fact, when you get a bunch of Americans together and the facts are explained to them, they tend to become more skeptical, as happened with even with the Manhattan elite at the IQ2 debate last year, where an audience that was going to vote against the motion “Global warming is not a crisis” voted for the motion after hearing the arguments. The swing was 30 points.

So the evidence is against Jim’s contention that, “If you put the finest skeptical scientists and researchers from the Competitive Enterprise Institute and American Enterprise Institute into a room with a couple hundred Americans, and let them talk until they’re blue in the face, I’m not sure how much you would move the dials.” They quite clearly do move the dials, significantly, if the dials are measuring government action, which is all a Presidential candidate should be talking about. If National Review would like to sponsor such an event to test Jim’s contention I know Chris Horner for one is biting at the bit.

So if a generic candidate (Republican or Democrat) who is opposed to significant government action on global warming allows his or her opponent (Democrat or Republican) to say, “The world is heating up, we must cut emissions now,” then they must call them on it. They must call attention to the exaggerations and the hyperbole that surrounds the issue, cut through the PR fog and concentrate on the issue and what fast and deep emissions reductions really mean to Americans and the world: less growth, lower living standards, higher unemployment, more poverty, more death. Conceding that argument is, to my mind, not just bad politics but positively immoral.

Yes, there’s a good argument that technology will make the question moot in the end, but not in the short term, and that is where the battle is being fought right now. There are a host of no-regrets policies like those Jim Manzi has outlined that can help, but any concession to the idea that deep and fast emissions reduction is necessary is a concession to central control of the economy in the name of an exaggerated threat. Any candidate who does that deserves opprobrium.