A thoughtful conservative perspective on climate – Part I

Here’s a refreshing voice.   Peter Wehner has impeccable conservative credentials, having served  under Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and most recently as deputy assistant to Pres. George W. Bush.  He resides at the “The Ethics & Public Policy Center,” a neo-con think tank.

After taking a long, hard look at the evidence, Wehner concluded that the scientific consensus on climate is correct.    He shares his conclusions in two interesting posts titled “Conservatives and Climate Change, Part I and Part II” in the neo-con magazine Commentary.

Wehner acknowledges of course the scientific uncertainties, the dangers of government intervention,  and other conservative concerns.     Environmentalists will find plenty to argue with, but his caveats are worth considering because they clarify the sources of conservative rejection of climate science.

Most importantly, Wehner separates the question “Is it happening?” from “What should we do?” — in itself a major step forward — and for the most part he accepts the science.   His stance is particularly refreshing following recantations by born-again climate agnostics Romney, Gingrich and Huntsman.

Check out these excerpts:  (The full posts are linked above)

“The world is getting warmer. The warming is almost certainly caused, at least in large part, by human activity. And rising temperatures could pose a future risk, though how significant of a risk is open to interpretation. . . This is not a liberal invention; it’s physics.

Conservatives should be part of that conversation.    There’s an intellectually credible case to be made that it’s unwise to embrace massive, harmful changes to our economy in the face of significant uncertainties . . .  [yet] to acknowledge global warming does not necessarily lead one to embrace Al Gore’s environmental agenda.

But rather than offer constructive ideas on how to deal with global warming, some conservatives simply deny global warming has occurred. Their concern is that admitting global warming is real opens the door to government restriction on liberty, so it’s simply better to keep the door bolted shut. . .

[Yet] the problem for those who deny global warming is empirical:    Earth’s temperatures have increased and human activity has contributed to it.   To deny this is to deny reality, to subordinate truth to ideology.    And in the long run that can only damage conservatism.”

It seems to me that anybody who cares about climate should listen respectfully to and engage with people like Wehner who say it’s time for conservatives to join the conversation about market-based solutions, rather than continuing to pretend that the problem doesn’t exist.

Neo-cons are an interesting group, because they pride themselves on independence and intellectual honesty.    If enough people like Wehner speak up, it could make it easier for other conservatives to accept the science without feeling they are betraying their identity or cause.    That’s exactly why misinformers will try to quickly shout Wehner down with the usual myths — and why the “evidence-based community” of scientists and others should come to his defense.

[Update 12/22/11:   Commentary online editor Jonathan Tobin challenged Wehner, charging that “Conservatives’ Warming Skepticism Rooted in Environmentalist Hysteria.”     Wehner quickly replied with “Conservatives and Climate Change:   Facts Need To Be Our Guiding Star,”  which cites the IPCC, the NAS, and the Climate Science Program reports under President Bush.     Wehner concludes:

“These reports are sober, measured and serious. They make a scientific, not a polemical, case for AGW.   It’s possible they are wrong.    But their case has been made in a persuasive and empirical manner.

“And the temptation conservatives need to resist is to portray the entire climate change movement as consisting of individuals who are more interested in ideology than science.”

“. . . for some on the right (not Jonathan, it needs to be said) to insist that AGW is a hoax, the product (more or less) of a massive conspiracy, is, I believe, damaging to conservatism.    That is something I do care about.    And more than that, it is, from what I can tell, a position at odds with where the evidence leads.    Contemporary liberalism can do as it will.    But for conservatism, facts–those stubborn facts–need to be our guiding star.”

I doubt any of us could have said it better.

The full tit-for-tat is recorded in our post “A Climate Debate Among Conservatives.”

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