For anyone worried about climate change, Jerry Taylor is an intriguing figure. He “spent years as a professional climate denier at the Cato Institute, arguing against climate science, regulations, and treaties in op-eds, speeches, and media appearances”… But then Taylor began to change his mind…. [David Leonhardt (New York Times), “Conservatives for the Climate.” April 25, 2019]
Yesterday’s post described two columnists at the New York Times, Bret Stephens and Ross Douthat, who have editorialized against climate alarmism. In a debate/discussion with Douthat, fellow columnist David Leonhardt highlighted the conversion experience of Jerry Taylor, founder and head of the Niskanen Center, which advertises itself as “Improving Policy, Advancing Liberty.”
How many times has this juicy story been told and retold–Taylor’s conversion from climate skeptic to climate alarmist/activism, spiced with Jerry’s own vitriol? Virtually every left-of-center climate group has interviewed Taylor or reported on the same: YaleEnvironment360, Yale Climate Connections, VOX, E&E News, Inside Climate News, Independent, The Intercept, and New Hope Network, among others.
Taylor himself throws flames at his political opponents for being stuck in “denial” from some combination of cowardice and on-the-take (see his U-tube video analogizing how a number of Republicans are “locked down … in climate denial prison” by sinister forces and need help for a “jail break”).
The opposition, to Taylor, is fringe, anti-intellectual, and “alt-right.” As he stated in 2016:
The climate denialist world is a very small echo chamber which is almost hermetically sealed from the rest of the climate arena…. It’s not that different from the alt-right world writ large that we’ve been learning about recently. They have not crossed the radar screens of serious people. But through that neglect, they have grown steadily and increasingly on the right.
And we are “deniers” (as in Holocaust deniers).
Taylor’s style and rhetoric, in fact, has inflamed libertarians and conservatives, the audience he is trying to reach with his repentance message. But Jerry is having fun with much worldly gain (see tomorrow’s post: “Energy/Climate Statism for Fun and Profit”).
A Second Opinion
To those of us who have known and worked with Jerry Taylor for years, even decades, his reeducation is utterly unconvincing. His position and arguments at Cato easily neuter, if not devastate, his new arguments at the Niskanen Center. One can connect the dots of a very unstable, shifty intellectual who, in effect, faked his death to collect the insurance money.
At Cato, Jerry was a global lukewarmer and saw right through the facade of a global agreement to effectively ration CO2. Even with a wide range of physical climate outcomes, it was fairly simple all-pain, no-gain math. The politics at home and aboard was a nonstarter. It was, in his own words, all political theater.
Unstable Jerry has shifted his self-description from libertarian to libertarian-leaning to conservative to (currently), a “passionate moderate.”
His Niskanen Center has likewise shifted from libertarian to libertarian-leaning to left-libertarian, or as they currently call it, “moderate (small-r republicanism”). The Niskanen Center, the common denominator being Jerry, is somewhere between center-left and neoconservative … a “Wheel of Ideology,” as Phil Magness puts it.
“Dogmatic moderation” and “unyielding centrism” are other descriptors used offered up to the perplexed followers of the Niskanen Center.
What would William Niskanen say? He was a climate skeptic (“denier,” to use Taylor’s favorite pejorative) and a Public Choice economist (public- choice considerations, verboten at the Niskanen Center, severely weaken the case for climate activism).
Regarding climate change, Taylor’s position has shifted time and again–all to the Progressive Left. He began by advocating a revenue-neutral carbon tax before, very quickly, shifting to a revenue-positive carbon tax. (“Jerry Taylor’s ‘Conservative’ Case for Carbon Tax Collapses in 36 Days,” Robert Murphy noted).
Taylor’s initial case for a carbon levy (March 23, 2015) also assumed a political trade of carbon pricing for existing climate regulation (a “tax-for-regulation swap,” in his words). But that has been jettisoned too (“… some climate regulations will be required in any case,” he tweeted last year).
And now, with his cheer-leading of the energy/climate part of the Green New Deal (below), Taylor’s climate policy is command-and-control, do-it-all, more-the-better.
Little wonder that Jerry Taylor no longer pretends to be a libertarian or conservative, just an ephemeral “passionate moderate.”
Consider this interview exchange from July 2016 with Green Sports Blog:
JT: I’d say the window to get a real carbon pricing solution is about four years. Otherwise, because the science and the consequences of climate change won’t wait, the policy prescriptions will shift to more government mandates like the “keep it in the ground” campaign.
GSB: Not the ideal libertarian solution…
JT But it’s better than nothing. If first-best solutions are unavailable, then we have to look at second-best solutions.
Also consider his recent “Open Letter to the Green New Dealers“:
I write this as a friend who wants your movement to succeed. Your cause is just and … the hour is late…. It is long past time to mine words about the risks at our doorstep. Our cavalier attitude towards the well-being of future generations is ethically scandalous….
[An] 80 percent reduction of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 [according to experts] … would likely produce a net increase of hundreds of thousands of jobs right off the bat, with a million or more new jobs created less than two decades hence.
This “recovering libertarian” is firmly on the super-highway to energy/climate serfdom.
The historian of thought is right to probe the reasons for Jerry Taylor’s complete reversal, intellectually and politically, from a climate skeptic to a climate alarmist/forced energy transformationist. From libertarian to statist. From the moral/political high ground of dense, affordable, reliable energy as the master resource, to the political/intellectual swamp of Malthusianism, deep ecology, and authoritarianism-totalitarianism.
An analysis must consider his stated reasons for changing a decades-held, carefully argued position. It must consider Taylor’s controversial past, both in college (he was involved in very bad behaviors and left) and at Cato (where he used his promotion to vice president, fundraising, to plant the seeds for his breakaway Niskanen Center).
An “evil genius” at work? None of this is pretty–or pleasant to explain.