Once the GOP Rolls Out Climate Policies, It Endorses All the Assumptions of the Left

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You can’t beat something with nothing, according to ancient Beltway wisdom, an outlook guaranteed to yield an inexorable increase in the size, cost, and destructiveness of government, even as it forces the opponents of “something” gradually to adopt the assumptions of the proponents, and to descend into a process of negotiating with themselves.

The latest manifestation of this self-defeating stance comes in a recent news report: “Congressional Republicans are developing legislation to introduce next year that could serve as the GOP framework for addressing climate change. The language will likely center on energy efficiency, natural gas use, and technology to clean up coal-fired power plants, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters… ‘We owe it to the country to have an alternative to the Green New Deal.’ Graham said he’s frustrated because large parts of the Republican Party still resist the idea of climate change legislation.”

Let us recall President Trump’s typically-imprecise statement that " … global warming … a lot of it's a hoax. It's a hoax. I mean, it's a money-making industry, okay? It's a hoax, a lot of it." Put aside Mr. Trump’s other assertions about the Chinese: Notwithstanding the predictable sneering from the usual suspects, there is very substantial truth in that statement, a reality hidden by the equally-imprecise “reporting” on climate issues by most of the American media, which have failed to distinguish among four separate questions. To wit:

·         Are increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHG) having effects that are detectable?

·         Are those effects significant?

·         Is there evidence of a crisis?

·         Would the American or international climate policies usually proposed make much of a difference?

The respective answers to those questions are yes, no, no, and no, about which more below. But in the asserted view of the environmental left and the climate industry---it is big business indeed---the effects already are enormous, a crisis is upon us, and barely more than a decade remains for concerted action lest massive environmental destruction become irreversible. In brief: Mankind is cooking the planet.

Precisely which of those premises does Sen. Graham want Republicans to endorse? It is absolutely correct that some predicted effects of increasing GHG concentrations are observable in the data. But there is little evidence of serious climate impacts attendant upon increasing GHG concentrations. Temperatures are rising, but as the Little Ice Age ended around 1850, it is not easy to separate natural from anthropogenic effects on temperatures. The latest research in the peer-reviewed literature suggests that mankind is responsible for about half a degree of the global temperature increase of about 1.5 degrees since 1850.

There is little trend in the number of “hot” days for 1895–2017; 11 of the 12 hottest years occurred before 1960. Global mean sea level has been increasing for thousands of years; it may or may not be accelerating. The Northern and Southern Hemisphere sea ice changes tell very different stories. US tornado activity shows either no trend or a downward trend since 1954. Tropical storms, hurricanes, and accumulated cyclone energy show little trend since satellite measurements began in the early 1970s. The number of US wildfires shows no trend since 1985. (Wildfire acreage is far more fundamentally driven by federal forest-management practices.) The Palmer Drought Severity index shows no trend since 1895. US flooding over the past century is uncorrelated with increasing GHG concentrations. The available data do not support the ubiquitous assertions about the dire impacts of declining pH levels in the oceans.

Sen. Graham seems not to understand that any attempt to provide “an alternative to the Green New Deal” means automatically an endorsement of the assumptions of the leftist environmental movement: There is a crisis, it is existential, only ever-more government at the international level can address it, and on and on. Why else would an alternative be necessary? And the only remaining issue, as the old joke goes, would be the price. Which is precisely what some “conservative” proponents of “carbon” policies are arguing: Our approach to climate policies would be cheaper.

Which rather begs the question. Sen. Graham has not told us what positive effect on the climate “crisis” would result from his alternative to the Green New Deal. As I have shown elsewhere, the maximum temperature reduction to be yielded by the Green New Deal would be between 0.083 and 0.173 degrees C by 2100. Presumably, Sen. Graham’s alternative would have effects vastly smaller. Accordingly, both the Green New Deal and Sen. Graham’s alternative would be all economic cost and no environmental benefit, even under the assumptions of the environmental left, a topic for another day. That is why the “insurance” argument for climate policies makes no sense: Any policy even remotely plausible economically or politically would make no difference, whether adopted by the U.S. alone or internationally.

At a more subtle level, Sen. Graham’s alternative would be all cost and no benefit politically for conservatives and Republicans endorsing it. Again: The mere endorsement of a climate policy implies an endorsement of the climate crisis view---why else would we need an alternative to the Green New Deal?---and if there is an existential crisis, no cost is too high. Nor should we ignore the larger context: The climate “crisis” is but one component of the larger leftist stance that mankind is a scourge on the planet, that fossil fuels are evil, and that human ingenuity---technological advance---yields only destruction. Which components of this antihuman world view does Sen. Graham believe that Republicans should endorse?

This is why the Trump exit from the Paris agreement is crucially important, not so much because Paris is unenforceable, or because the costs would be borne in vast disproportion by western democracies, or because the temperature effects of the Paris commitments would be virtually unmeasurable. Instead: The U.S. exit from Paris carries with it a fundamental rejection of the assumptions and assertions of the environmental left, which President Trump seems to understand, even if only instinctively, unlike the vast majority of the sophisticates both within and outside the Beltway.

And that is why the details of Sen. Graham’s proposal are irrelevant. Once Republicans have endorsed an alternative, they will be stuck with the underlying assumptions about climate phenomena, and they will have no principled answer to the endless pressures to waste vast resources on never-enough cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, to the endless pressures for wealth redistribution to the third world, and to the endless pressures to erode freedom and property rights and U.S. sovereignty so as to address an existential climate crisis for which there is no evidence, literally. To argue that an alternative approach to absurd climate policy proposals would be more reasonable is to lose the game, and much more, immediately.

Conservatives and Republicans cannot defend a principle by arguing about numbers. That is why the smaller adverse effects of Sen. Graham’s alternative to the Green New Deal in terms of economic growth, employment, and all the rest are irrelevant. We cannot defeat climate alarmism and the fundamental threat to freedom that it represents unless we defend first principles. In the context of climate policy, watchful waiting and adaptation over time is the only sensible approach consistent with them.

Benjamin Zycher is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. 

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