Why is “the right” so hostile to “climate change”?

I sent this to Paul Krugman (at his NYT e-mail address) in response to his column, “Another Step Toward Climate Apocalypse” (NYT, 4 July, 2022), in which he critiqued the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on how much authority the EPA has to regulate greenhouse gases and lambasted ‘conservative’ (which he equates 1:1 with “Republican”) attitudes toward climate policy.  As he asked in his column,

So ultimately our paralysis in the face of what looks more and more like a looming apocalypse comes down to the G.O.P.’s adamant opposition to any kind of action.

The question is, how did letting the planet burn become a key G.O.P. tenet?

This was my response specifically to that question.  It is related peripherally to this earlier post and reflects my long-standing view of the way the politics of “climate policy” have (alas) evolved in the U.S.

As usual, I have received no response — not even an acknowledgement of receipt — and have not seen him address what I suggested in any subsequent writing (to be fair, it’s only been 5 days — if that changes, I’ll update this, but experience suggests there will be no need…) .  Perhaps all these missives disappear into the SPAM bucket and Dr. Krugman never sees them.  Or, perhaps (quite likely, actually) he gets far too many such missives to be able to read them all, never mind to respond to them.  Or, perhaps he thinks my suggestion was ignorant crap and not worth the effort of a response.  Or, perhaps he thinks there’s simply nothing a Nobel Laureate and CUNY/Princeton/MIT professor and NYT columnist could learn from any of the unwashed masses out there.  In the face of silence, how is one to tell which it is?

5 July 2022

Dr. Krugman,

Consider this possibility, which I’ve thought for a long time was accurate:

The American “right” latched onto an “anti-climate change” attitude — and took that to the ridiculous extreme of being proof-of-membership-in-the-group — in large measure as a direct response to the early (and, alas, continuing) attitudes of the American “left” toward the subject.

From the earliest discussions of the potential for climate change and what we might do about it, the left succeeded in tying “climate change” nearly inextricably to “highly coercive and disruptive government mandated emergency command-and-control remedies”:

If you didn’t support their coercive regulatory proposals or agree blindly with their pants-on-fire timelines, you were labeled a “denier”.

If you questioned their most alarmist predictions, you were labeled a “denier”.

If you proposed incentive-driven market-oriented mitigations, rather than (or in addition to) enforcement-driven regulatory ones, you were labeled a “denier”.

If you suggested considering mitigations like carbon sequestration or geo-engineering, rather than limiting your approach to a complete rejection of fossil fuels, you were labeled a “denier”.

If you suggested partial remedies, like switching from coal to natural gas, as a way of moving in the right direction without creating quite as much short-term disruption, you were labeled a “denier”.

If you suggested nuclear power as a potential “green” replacement for fossil fuels, you were labeled a “denier”.

If you expressed concern about the deleterious economic impacts of a hasty and compulsory transition to a “net zero” economy, or skepticism about the imagined economic nirvana that would be a “green economy”, you were labeled a “denier”.

If you pointed out that “green” technologies like windmills and solar panels and electric cars were not actually as ready-for-prime-time as the breathlessly naive proclamations of the green left said they were, you were labeled a “denier”.

In that environment, there was simply no way to be both ‘conservative’ and accepted as someone who took climate change seriously. You were either wildly progressive or you were a “denier”. As far as the green left and the media that echoed its talking points was concerned, there was nothing, and no room for anything, in between.

And, as a result, there was no way to have an actual, considered, reasonable conversation about the potential impacts of climate change (both negative and, yes, positive), about realistic timelines for and costs of both the change and our response to it, or about the full range of options available for dealing with it.

Instead, it was either all-in or nothing — “green new deal” or sit on our hands and wait for the extinction of humanity.

Did that make the reaction of the political “right” correct or good? No.  It was and is largely anti-intellectual, petulant, and short-sighted.

But, to the extent that the “left” succeeded in transforming “climate change” from a legitimate scientific and policy debate into merely another excuse for getting what it had always wanted anyway and for other reasons — a self-righteous justification for telling us all how we must live our lives coupled to yet more coercive authority concentrated in the hands of politicians and government bureaucrats (to be guided, of course, by academic intellectuals) — it did mean that the opposition from the “right” to “climate change” was always much more about opposing that coercive policy agenda than it was about the science, itself.

© Copyright 2022, Augustus P. Lowell

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