March 23, 2009 at 8:21AM
by Jim DiPeso
So, I received this request from Christian Science Monitor environmental blogger Eoin O'Carroll to comment on RNC Chairman Michael Steele's hypothesis that global warming is actually part of a planetary cooling process.
I responded with a carefully calibrated statement that conservatives should start talking about the conservative ethic of stewardship, and that I hope Steele wasn't trying to send a message that in the post-debacle phase of the 2008 campaign, the GOP has no need to change.
Many of the responses to my statement were the usual canards that climate skeptics dutifully recite in the interest of political correctness.
E.g., carbon dioxide is not a heat-trapping gas.
Climate change is a conspiracy fomented to raise our utility rates.
Thousands of scientists have signed a petition stating that global warming isn't occurring.
Mars is getting warmer, so it must be the sun.
Past warming episodes had natural causes, so, ipso facto, the current spate of warming must have a natural cause.
I've pondered for a long time why many people on my side of the spectrum find the idea of man-caused global warming to be threatening. True conservatives should want to act prudently to reduce risks to civilization, right?
Part of the answer is that many conservatives fear that a response to global warming inevitably would result in more government regimentation of our lives and livelihoods. That's a reasonable concern, given that a fair number of liberals view global warming as an opportunity for social engineering.
Part of the answer, also, is "The Daily Me" phenomenon that New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote about last week. Online media readily let us filter the information that comes our way. Liberals can find ideological succor in the Daily Kos, while conservatives can retreat to the welcoming embrace of Town Hall neither of which will challenge their audiences with a cold shower of opinions that may upset their favorite notions about the world.
It's easier to go along with the party line than to think about information that may challenge it.
Those who still depend largely on daily newspapers for information will be confronted with opinions not to their liking. They don't have to read them, but there they are, challenging our smug self-regard as intellectually honest people.
When I get my Seattle Times every Monday morning, there to greet me on the opinion page is the lefty populist commentator David Sirota. I have little use for most of Sirota's opinions regarding trade and economics, but I try to force myself to read him anyway because it's possible I will learn something. I hope that my fellow Times subscribers who vote left do likewise when confronted by the scowling conservative visage of Charles Krauthammer.
A world of echo chambers where facts are less important than nodding in agreement with the like-minded does not bode well for building a bipartisan consensus on climate policy.
Nevertheless, we must try. Here's a hopeful sign: Congressman Bob Inglis, a South Carolina Republican, has introduced legislation to impose a carbon tax and offset it with a payroll tax cut. Leaving aside the tax vs. cap-and-trade argument, how Inglis has framed his bill is worth noting.
Inglis says his legislation would correct market distortions and thereby strengthen national security, create economic opportunities, and stabilize the climate. If conservatives don't want to talk about climate, Inglis said, OK, then focus on the first two reasons for supporting his bill.
Down that path, the center may hold.