National Review is to the conservative movement what Yankee Stadium is to baseball. It's a monument that no serious adherent can ignore.
So when National Review published a cover story this past week calling on conservatives to shake off denial and get into the climate policy debate, it was the surest sign yet that the biggest climate change question facing America today is what to do about it, not whether it's happening.
It's a welcome development. Kudos to article author Jim Manzi.
Manzi, a mathematician and head of a software company, set the table by laying out the basic physics that explain why loading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide will lead to an increase in global average temperatures. He warns his readers that if they doubt this explanation, they doubt more than a century of particle physics -- a weak platform from which to mount what is really an argument about public policy. As Manzi wrote, conservatives have painted themselves into a corner trying to impeach the science of global warming. Once the science became clear, conservatives were on the wrong side of a credibility gap.
If conservatives accept the basic science of global warming, they will be in a better position to counter liberals in the climate policy arena. Manzi recommends an approach similar to that taken by Newt Gingrich in his debate with John Kerry a few months ago. Focus on technology that lowers carbon dioxide emissions, keep the costs down, and make sure society can adapt to climate change that's already in the pipeline.
One can take issue with Manzi's policy propositions. For example, investments in technology are necessary for reducing CO2 emissions, but unless there is an economic driver, the investments won't happen.
Coal is a good example. Gasification and carbon dioxide sequestration cost more than burning conventional pulverized coal and letting CO2 go up the stack. Utilities are not likely to invest in the former unless it's cost-competitive with the latter. Without an emissions cap that, in effect, puts a price on CO2, the energy market likely will stick with the cheaper way of burning coal. But that's an argument we should be having. Conservatives have much to offer the policy debate, from the standpoints of practical economics and, more philosophically, from the Burkean ethics of prudence and intergenerational stewardship.
That won't happen if conservatives don't get off the dead-end road of raising flawed, hackneyed arguments questioning climate science. If Manzi can coax the conservative movement off that path and into the arena of policy ideas, he will have rendered a tremendous service.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.