How Should GOP Candidates Discuss Climate Change on the Campaign Trail?

Posted: Jun 10, 2011 2:52 PM

A fascinating -- and, for some, provocative -- discussion between AEI's Stephen Hayward and Hugh Hewitt, cerebral conservatives, both:

Hewitt asks Hayward how Republican candidates might handle the challenge of talking about climate change in such a way that "[they] do not communicate indifference to science, but [they] also don't communicate alliegance to crack pot policy," (like cap and trade, or Kyoto).  It's an important political question, and Hayward has endeavors to answer it thoroughly.  He outlines his case in the clip above, and fleshes it out in a lengthy post at Powerline, which I highly recommend setting aside the time to read.  Hayward argues that Republicans should concede that global warming is real, and that mankind has likely contributed to it (minimally), but...

The climate campaign's monomania for near-term suppression of greenhouse gas emissions through cap and trade or carbon taxes or similar means is the single largest environmental policy mistake of the last generation. The way to reduce carbon emissions is not to make carbon-based energy more expensive, but rather make low- and non-carbon energy cheaper at a large scale, so the whole world can adopt it, not just rich nations. This is a massive innovation problem, but you can't promote energy innovation by economically ruinous taxes and regulation. We didn't get the railroad by making horse-drawn wagons more expensive; we didn't get the automobile by taxing the railroads; we didn't get the desktop computer revolution by taxing typewriters, slide-rules, and file cabinets. It is time to stop ending the charade that we can enact shell game policies like cap and trade that will do nothing to actually solve the problem, but only increase the price of energy and slow down our already strangled economy. I support sensible efforts for government to promote energy technology breakthroughs, but am against subsidizing uncompetitive technologies.

Forget about the argument over the science of global warming for a moment, because the Achilles' heel of the whole issue is the idiotic policy prescription of the climate campaign. As a thought experiment, consider this basic fact: if we could wave the proverbial magic wand and prove with absolute certainty that the earth was in store for 4 degrees of warming from greenhouse gases, it would not make the climate campaign's idiotic agenda any less idiotic. In other words, put bluntly, the scientific argument, interesting as it is, no longer matters very much for the politics and policy of the matter.

I ran Hayward's piece past a prominent critic of climate alarmism, Chris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.  His quick take:

I have enormous respect for Steve; we've worked together.  Steve has promoted a carbon tax with the aim of using the proceeds to fund what's called new technologies.  He is over-intellectualizing this question; It's much simpler than this.  You have to start with the understanding that none of the science is based on observations.  It's based on computer models.  Their models show warming that has never materialized.  But even accepting the models that have shown to be wrong, I'd offer two main points for candidates: (1) Nothing ever proposed (Kyoto/Cap & Trade) would detectably impact the climate, according to these computer models, so (2) It's all pain, and no gain.  In a partisan sense, it's wrong time, wrong party.

Yes, global warming exists.  That doesn't mean it continues uninterrupted.  Yes, man has probably contributed to it.  But the question is, what should we do?  The consensus is that the policies derived by the Left in the name of addressing this, according to many of their own models, would not have any discernable impact.  So we say, do no harm.  This isn't about the climate; it's about restricting individual liberty and increasing government control.