According to recent polling, a majority of Americans believe that climate change is real. More accurately, most believe that there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than is good for us. However, a majority of that majority don’t want to sign on to the radical and economically disastrous solutions being proposed by the zealots who dominate climate change discussion and are increasingly coming to dictate the Democratic Party’s positions on the issue. There is opportunity here if the Republican Party is daring enough to seize the moment.
Of the majority who believe we have a problem, there are three key groups; and the largest of the three might well support a pragmatic approach to the challenge. The first group consists of the true believers in the High Church of Climate Change. They firmly hold that greenhouse gasses mark the coming of the apocalypse, and that the only hope for mankind’s salvation is to punish itself by destroying all carbon-based industry no matter what the economic cost. Most of these people are progressive Democrats and they include a majority of the crowd currently seeking their party’s presidential nomination. Their minds are made up and no amount of argument will change that.
The second group accepts that there is a problem, but don’t think it is serious enough to warrant the radical solutions proposed by the first. They would likely support a pragmatic scientific approach to solving the problem if it does not include a radical impact on their personal finances or lifestyles. This is the demographic that is the most lucrative target for a coherent Republican approach. Many are independents as well as moderate Democrats alarmed by the leftist trend of their party and its economic philosophy, climate policy included.
The third group includes older voters who see the problem, but are content to kick the can down the pike believing that they’ll be dead before it becomes an existential crisis. Most figure that the loss of a few polar bears, Micronesian islands and possibly Manhattan would be an acceptable risk. It is tempting for me to drift toward the third group — particularly the Manhattan part — but as a policy wonk and someone who thinks of himself as a responsible conservative, I find myself in the second.
What should a reasonable Republican policy be? First, it should be science-based. If the increase in carbon dioxide is a byproduct of scientific progress — which has vastly improved the lot of mankind — it follows that there should be workable scientific solutions. In fact, such solutions exist in the way of carbon scrubbing technology which is technologically feasible. Rather than merely reducing existing CO2 output, scrubbing eliminates existing excess atmospheric carbon dioxide. Such an approach is more effective and efficient. A second advantage is something seldom mentioned in the climate change debate: We are one super-volcano away from an extended period of global cooling. When — not if — one of those rascals lights off, we will need all the coal and oil we can produce for perhaps a decade. With no sun, there would be no solar power.
The drawback of carbon scrubbing is that it is expensive at the current state of the science. Economy of scale for mass world-wide production should lower costs, and the emerging industry would produce new jobs as the space program did in the 1960s.
With carbon scrubbing — aided by massive new worldwide tree planting projects — as a base, a Republican position should be that this scientific approach should be the key to an American re-entry into the Paris climate approach. The current Paris Accords are virtually unenforceable, and politicians in the emerging world — and places like China and Korea — know that they would be cutting their throats if implemented due to job loss and economic collapse. A U.S.-led approach that would require each nation to provide scrubber and tree planting quotas in accordance to its carbon dioxide output is a much more politically viable solution.
If an international group of scientists can agree on a viable and sustainable goal for what is an acceptable ratio of CO2 to oxygen in the atmosphere, we would have an attainable international objective. If we had tried to assess every individual American $1,000 in ’60s money to get to the moon, we would have never gone there. The program was sold on the basis of job and new product creation; that should be the Republican approach. The progressives are wrong. You should not destroy the world in order to save it.
• Gary Anderson lectures in Alternative Analysis at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.
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