Being “free and green” requires just what classical liberals and conservatives want: defeat of the anti-capitalist, anti-technology, anti-energy agenda. Market pricing, not carbon taxes. Open international trade, not carbon tariffs. Avoidance of one-world government in the perilous, futile crusade to “stabilize” the planet. In short, no climate road to serfdom.
Bad incentives have created a peculiar situation in which alleged classical liberals and conservatives push climate alarm and open-ended governmental energy activism. I have called out several of my former free-market colleagues in this regard, including Jerry Taylor (here and here vs. his previous view here); Josiah Neeley (here vs. his previous view here); and Jonathan Adler (here vs. his earlier view here).
In each case, these individuals published prior analysis that can easily neuter if not refute their present views.
Adler, a legal scholar who has opined on climate issues for decades, is an academic who now has his own environmental center at Case Western Reserve University. No doubt his switch from climate-alarm skeptic to carbon taxer was necessary for such an accomplishment in Left academia. Prestige and income are drivers in life that few can afford to resist.
But for alleged classical liberals and conservatives, the contradictions and tensions of the climate agenda abound. It starts with the unproved, even unprovable, “market failure” from unregulated carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions. In fact, the most settled science points to a positive externality in rough economic terms; it is the subtle, in-dispute, secondary effects from the enhanced greenhouse effect where the negatives come into play.
Then there is the quite certain government failure involved in the quest to regulate CO2 in the U.S. and around the world. We have 30 years of real-world experience in this regard.
And, finally, politics. With Hillary Clinton certain to succeed Obama to cement climate statism (Trump “is going to be utterly decimated in November,” stated Jerry Taylor), the argument from the new-bred activists was that those rejecting climate alarm and resisting government-directed energy transformation were out of touch. We had to choose the least worst policies. A carbon tax was better than both cap-and-trade and command-and-control.
But Trump won and reversed federal climate policy, a move that has contributed to the steady real-world collapse of the international climate agenda. It had to happen eventually given the inherent advantages of mineral energies over dilute, intermittent renewables, the latter hanging on by government threads.
Today’s 85 percent market share of fossil fuels in global energy markets–after three decades of climate alarm–speaks for itself. The Paris Climate Accord is quickly going the way of the Kyoto Protocol as the US-led but global oil and gas boom takes shape, and coal remains the fuel of choice for much of the developing world.
In short, sweet victories have resulted from our tireless educational efforts to apply classical liberal insights to the climate debate.
Given this, some of the side-changers have gone silent on the issue. Peculiarly, however, Professor Adler recently pleaded with conservatives and classical liberals to take up the fallen flag of climate/energy statism.
Enter Adler’s latest on climate policy, The Climate Debate Should Focus on How to Address the Threat of Climate Change, Not Whether Such a Threat Exists” (Volokh Conspiracy: December 1, 2019). His short article (in color) is interspersed with my comments.
Like Ronald Bailey, I used to be skeptical that climate change posed a serious environmental threat and questioned the wisdom of policy responses. Climate change featured prominently in Bailey’s Eco-Scam, and I edited a book and helped develop a policy program aimed at forestalling U.S. adoption of limits on greenhouse gases.
Comment: Please-believe-me-now does nothing to refute his previous views contained in “Greenhouse Policy without Regrets: A Free Market Approach to the Uncertain Risk of Climate Change” (Competitive Enterprise Institute, July 14, 2000).
And like Bailey, I no longer hold to that view, and I’m now willing to consider policy interventions I would once have rejected out of hand. (The Niskanen Center’s Jerry Taylor has had a similar change of heart.)
Comment: What “policy interventions”? Domestic taxes and global tariffs? How much and under what conditions? If those conditions are not met, are you then against government intervention? Are you really ready for UN global governance?
As Bailey explains in his most recent Reason piece, the scientific evidence that climate change poses a serious problem continues to accumulate, as does the volume of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. While there is still substantial uncertainty as to the precise consequences of increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, there is more reason to fear harmful effects, and seriously adverse scenarios cannot be ruled out. Like it or not, the science has continued to converge in support of the theory that human activity is contributing to a warming of the atmosphere.
Comment: This is a non sequitur. Adler himself has refuted the notion that the precautionary principle makes a case for government activism. The assertion of mounting evidence for climate alarm is the Mann-Dessler-etc. Far Left view that has been ably challenged on theoretical/empirical grounds by a number of other scientists (Curry-Spencer-etc.) that Adler and Bailey do not seem to want to discuss.
Ronald Bailey’s latest views on the physical science effectively take on the ultra-skeptic view but shortchanges the global lukewarming view. The latter concludes that the sign of the externality is quite uncertain, if not positive, on temperature grounds.
Bailey’s latest deserves a separate rebuttal, in fairness. But since when did he take climate modeling at face value? Does anyone know the microphysics of climate that models try to parameterize and then account for with fudge factors?
Residual uncertainty about the precise timing and magnitude of future climate change is no justification for failing to act. To the contrary, we take action all the time to address uncertain or improbable threats. We invest in national defense not because we know of particular military threats that will manifest themselves at any given time, but to protect against such threats if they should materialize.
Comment: Adler (2019), please read Adler (2000). The national defense analogy (why not just say police protection?) is quite a stretch to apply to carbon dioxide, to say the least. And backing up, the physical science of climate change is not settled with just “residual uncertainty.”
Similarly, we don’t buy insurance or install smoke detectors in our homes because we know when disaster will strike. We take such measures because the chance and cost of a calamity are great enough to justify prudent steps to reduce the likelihood and magnitude that such risks will come to pass. Climate change is no different. The potential negative consequences of climate change are large enough and probable enough to justify significant action.
Comment: This is pure assertion–and ably refuted by Adler 2000. Market entrepreneurship to anticipate and adapt to extreme weather events from any source is the obvious policy to deal with an uncertain future, not “significant [government] action.” Adler can be asked: what is your theory of entrepreneurship? And how do you respond, for example, to President Obama’s recent purchase of a $15 million beach house in climate harm’s way?
As with national defense, libertarians should remain vigilant as to the threat of government overreach, but this is not an argument to do nothing. The best national defense policy entails taking prudent steps to provide security, while eschewing government interventions that are themselves a particularly serious threat to individual liberty. Striking the right balance can be difficult, but it is what serious policy requires.
Comment: “Prudent steps” just throws bad intervention after bad. The climate math is clear–there is no governmental “insurance policy” for an unknown potential harm that has no quantifiable, much less affordable, premium. We are talking about real-world policy, not a perfect-knowledge hypothetical.
There is something comforting in the conceit that any particularly thorny policy problem is a mirage and not something to be take seriously. Alas, that is not the world we inhabit. Climate change is, in many respects, the product of modern industrial civilization, and addressing the threat of climate change is an awesome challenge—but it is a challenge that must be met.
Comment: The “conceit” of global government planning, not free-market reliance, to meet a speculative but “awesome” challenge” turns classical liberalism on its head. Climate policy should not be Al Gore’s “central organizing principle of human civilization.”
Taking climate change seriously does not require embracing centralized government control of the energy economy or a “Green New Deal.” It is fair to argue that neither the Paris Agreement nor the Clean Power Plan represented a serious approach to climate policy. But you can’t beat something with nothing, and if those who believe in limited government wish to forestall excessive government interventions in the name of environmental protection, it’s long past time they articulate and defend an alternative set of policies that can keep us both free and green.
Comment: This is the final argument for a losing, futile crusade. Adler concedes that climate politics, domestically and internationally, is off the rails. But “you can’t beat something with nothing” insults the driving force of the market, the creative, anticipatory, wealth-creating entrepreneurship. Adler 2000 said it best:
A true “no regrets” approach to climate change is not greater government controls on economic activity, but fewer. Economic growth, market institutions, and technological advance are often the most effective forms of insurance that a civilization can have.
The canard that capitulation will somehow avoid “excessive government interventions in the name of environmental protection” is at war with political reality. The federal government is busy dismantling climate policy. The Paris Accord is in disarray. The world is winning with a new era of mineral energy abundance.
Being “free and green” (Adler’s term) requires just what classical liberals and conservatives want: defeat of the anti-capitalist, anti-technology, anti-energy agenda. Market pricing, not carbon taxes. Open international trade, not carbon tariffs. Avoidance of one-world government in the perilous, futile crusade to “stabilize” the planet. In short, no climate road to serfdom.