With Friends Like These

In Friday's Washington Post, South Carolina Governor (and Republican) Mark Sanford wrote an opinion piece on climate change and politics that indirectly insults his fellow conservatives.

In the piece, headlined "A Conservative Conservationist?," Sanford outlines his belief that climate change is occurring and that "human activity is having a measurable effect on the environment." I doubt that very many people would argue with this...the real argument is how large is the effect, what are its consequences, and what, if anything, is worth doing to mitigate those consequences.

A larger problem I have with the piece stems from the following statement:
The fact is, I'm a conservative and a conservationist -- and that's okay.
I'm sure Sanford was just trying to be cute here, but the problem is that his arguments in this piece reminds me of the so-called "compassionate conservative" debate. Inherent in Sanford's statement above is a tacit admission that conservatives aren't normally conservationists. Like the notion that conservatives aren't normally compassionate (and as such need a special label), this is simply rubbish, and making policy arguments from this starting point is not a winning strategy.

Additionally, I think that Sanford is wrong on both a factual and strategic basis. While Sanford claims to have seen first-hand the effects of rising sea levels over the last 20 years, I think few serious people would believe that his personal experience on one coastal farm should have any bearing on a discussion of global climate change, and what, if any, impact it will have on sea levels.

In a similar vein, Sanford makes the following bizarre claim:
The real "inconvenient truth" about climate change is that some people are losing their rights and freedoms because of the actions of others -- in either the quality of the air they breathe, the geography they hold dear, the insurance costs they bear or the future environment of the children they love.
This flies in the face of ample evidence that the environment, particularly in the developed world, is improving, not declining. Air quality improves more rapidly with economic growth and wealth. Likewise, our ability to weather (forgive the pun) the costs of storms like Katrina (one can only assume this is what Sanford was referring to with respect to insurance costs) is improved by wealth, which allows us to build stronger, more resilient buildings, and to recover more quickly. Look at any comparison of the impact of severe weather on poor versus wealthy nations, and it quickly becomes clear that impoverishing ourselves and the rest of the world in an effort to reduce greenhouse emissions is unlikely to be a good tradeoff, even granting for the sake of argument that warming is likely to increase severe weather incidents (a conclusion for which little scientific support exists).

I think Sanford is right to argue that conservatives need to come up with a better response to the drive for regulation associated with global climate change. But I don't think a response that effectively concedes to our opponents several critical points - namely that the warming that is occurring is significant, and that a substantial portion of it is caused by man - is a great place to start. Both of these points remain unproven, and even the IPCC itself has, in its most recent Summary for Policymakers, reduced its estimates for both warming and sea-level rise

By conceding these points, Sanford places himself and others like him in the position of having to "do something," lest they seem uncaring about the dangers of what they've already conceded is happening. Sanford's desire to paint himself as a "conservationist conservative" is a direct byproduct of such concessions. It's all well and good to argue that we should be good stewards of the environment, but although it was a Republican who created the
EPA, and air and water quality continue to improve under Republican rule, it's the Left that has, and will continue to claim moral leadership in this area. Coming up with clever new names for ourselves won't change that. "Compassionate conservatism" didn't make the left concede that conservatives are warm and fuzzy, why would "conservationist conservatism" convince them that we're green?

Sanford notes that:
South Carolina is creating an advisory group that will study the effects of climate change on commerce and vice versa, with an eye toward crafting a plan that balances the needs of the business and environmental communities.
This strikes me as the quintessential "just do something!" plan. Does Sanford believe that this advisory group is likely to produce any outcome other than:
  • A demand for greater regulation, or
  • A demand for additional funds to study the issue further
Sanford expresses concern that "sea levels and government intervention may end up rising together." A good first step towards preventing that would be to remind our opponents that despite their assertions to the contrary, the science is not yet settled on global climate change, much less on what to do about it. And while it may feel good to cloak oneself in the mantle of "conservationist," isn't it morally and strategically better to unashamedly pursue policies (freedom and economic growth) that have the advantage of a long history of actually improving the environment?

G. Andrew Duthie is a software professional who resides in Northern Virginia. You can reach Andrew via his blog at http://duthieon.com/
In Friday's Washington Post, South Carolina Governor (and Republican) Mark Sanford wrote an opinion piece on climate change and politics that indirectly insults his fellow conservatives.

In the piece, headlined "A Conservative Conservationist?," Sanford outlines his belief that climate change is occurring and that "human activity is having a measurable effect on the environment." I doubt that very many people would argue with this...the real argument is how large is the effect, what are its consequences, and what, if anything, is worth doing to mitigate those consequences.

A larger problem I have with the piece stems from the following statement:
The fact is, I'm a conservative and a conservationist -- and that's okay.
I'm sure Sanford was just trying to be cute here, but the problem is that his arguments in this piece reminds me of the so-called "compassionate conservative" debate. Inherent in Sanford's statement above is a tacit admission that conservatives aren't normally conservationists. Like the notion that conservatives aren't normally compassionate (and as such need a special label), this is simply rubbish, and making policy arguments from this starting point is not a winning strategy.

Additionally, I think that Sanford is wrong on both a factual and strategic basis. While Sanford claims to have seen first-hand the effects of rising sea levels over the last 20 years, I think few serious people would believe that his personal experience on one coastal farm should have any bearing on a discussion of global climate change, and what, if any, impact it will have on sea levels.

In a similar vein, Sanford makes the following bizarre claim:
The real "inconvenient truth" about climate change is that some people are losing their rights and freedoms because of the actions of others -- in either the quality of the air they breathe, the geography they hold dear, the insurance costs they bear or the future environment of the children they love.
This flies in the face of ample evidence that the environment, particularly in the developed world, is improving, not declining. Air quality improves more rapidly with economic growth and wealth. Likewise, our ability to weather (forgive the pun) the costs of storms like Katrina (one can only assume this is what Sanford was referring to with respect to insurance costs) is improved by wealth, which allows us to build stronger, more resilient buildings, and to recover more quickly. Look at any comparison of the impact of severe weather on poor versus wealthy nations, and it quickly becomes clear that impoverishing ourselves and the rest of the world in an effort to reduce greenhouse emissions is unlikely to be a good tradeoff, even granting for the sake of argument that warming is likely to increase severe weather incidents (a conclusion for which little scientific support exists).

I think Sanford is right to argue that conservatives need to come up with a better response to the drive for regulation associated with global climate change. But I don't think a response that effectively concedes to our opponents several critical points - namely that the warming that is occurring is significant, and that a substantial portion of it is caused by man - is a great place to start. Both of these points remain unproven, and even the IPCC itself has, in its most recent Summary for Policymakers, reduced its estimates for both warming and sea-level rise

By conceding these points, Sanford places himself and others like him in the position of having to "do something," lest they seem uncaring about the dangers of what they've already conceded is happening. Sanford's desire to paint himself as a "conservationist conservative" is a direct byproduct of such concessions. It's all well and good to argue that we should be good stewards of the environment, but although it was a Republican who created the
EPA, and air and water quality continue to improve under Republican rule, it's the Left that has, and will continue to claim moral leadership in this area. Coming up with clever new names for ourselves won't change that. "Compassionate conservatism" didn't make the left concede that conservatives are warm and fuzzy, why would "conservationist conservatism" convince them that we're green?

Sanford notes that:
South Carolina is creating an advisory group that will study the effects of climate change on commerce and vice versa, with an eye toward crafting a plan that balances the needs of the business and environmental communities.
This strikes me as the quintessential "just do something!" plan. Does Sanford believe that this advisory group is likely to produce any outcome other than:
  • A demand for greater regulation, or
  • A demand for additional funds to study the issue further
Sanford expresses concern that "sea levels and government intervention may end up rising together." A good first step towards preventing that would be to remind our opponents that despite their assertions to the contrary, the science is not yet settled on global climate change, much less on what to do about it. And while it may feel good to cloak oneself in the mantle of "conservationist," isn't it morally and strategically better to unashamedly pursue policies (freedom and economic growth) that have the advantage of a long history of actually improving the environment?

G. Andrew Duthie is a software professional who resides in Northern Virginia. You can reach Andrew via his blog at http://duthieon.com/