Climate change is not a right vs left issue.
A revealing article in The Atlantic by Professor Adler.
Yesterday, I published a Post called Denialists standing up for insanity. Then within hours of writing that, up popped in my email ‘in-box’ the latest ‘What’s New’ from the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media. One article that jumped off the page at me was this one,
How A Conservative Sees, Wants to Address, Climate Change
June 6, 2012
Law professor Jonathan Adler, no flaming liberal, accepts much of the science and outlines conservative property rights principles for addressing climate change challenges.
What is surprising about these quotations?
- “… there is reason to believe many of the effects [of climate change] will be quite negative.
- “Excesses” of climate campaigners and “bad behavior” by some scientists “do not, and should not, discredit the underlying science.”
- Despite some “substantial uncertainty … this is not sufficient justification for ignoring global warming or pretending that climate change is not a serious problem.”
- “… effects will be most severe in those nations that are both least able to adapt and least responsible for” the greenhouse problem.
- “Even non-catastrophic warming should be a serious concern.”
What’s actually surprising about these points is not so much the messages, but the messenger.
Then a couple of paragraphs later, the Yale Forum article links to The Atlantic piece as in, “Adler expresses his views on the seriousness of climate change in “A Conservative’s Approach to Combating Climate Change.”
Let me just give you a taste of that Atlantic piece.
It opens thus,
A Conservative’s Approach to Combating Climate Change
No environmental issue is more polarizing than global climate change. Many on the left fear increases in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases threaten an environmental apocalypse while many on the right believe anthropogenic global warming is much ado about nothing and, at worst, a hoax. Both sides pretend as if the climate policy debate is, first and foremost, about science, rather than policy. This is not so. There is substantial uncertainty about the scope, scale, and consequences of anthropogenic warming, and will be for some time, but this is not sufficient justification for ignoring global warming or pretending that climate change is not a serious problem.
The fifth and sixth paragraphs present a powerful ‘constitutional’ perspective,
Accepting, for the sake of argument, that the skeptics’ assessment of the science is correct, global warming will produce effects that should be of concern. Among other things, even a modest increase in global temperature can be expected to produce some degree of sea-level rise, with consequent negative effects on low-lying regions. Michaels and Balling, for instance, have posited a “best guess” that sea levels will rise 5 to 11 inches over the next century. Such an increase in sea levels is likely manageable in wealthy, developed nations, such as the United States. Poorer nations in the developing world, however, will not be so able to adapt to such changes. This is of particular concern because these effects will be most severe in those nations that are both least able to adapt and least responsible for contributing to the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
It is a well established principle in the Anglo-American legal tradition that one does not have the right to use one’s own property in a manner that causes harm to one’s neighbor. There are common law cases gong back 400 years establishing this principle and international law has long embraced a similar norm. As I argued at length in this paper, if we accept this principle, even non-catastrophic warming should be a serious concern, as even non-catastrophic warming will produce the sorts of consequences that have long been recognized as property rights violations, such as the flooding of the land of others.
Professor Adler closes the article, as follows,
Fourth and finally, it is important to recognize that some degree of warming is already hard-wired into the system. This means that some degree of adaptation will be necessary. Yet as above, recognizing the reality of global warming need not justify increased federal control over the private economy. There are many market-oriented steps that can, and should, be taken to increase the country’s ability to adapt to climate change including, as I’ve argued here and here, increased reliance upon water markets, particularly in the western United States where the effects of climate change on water supplies are likely to be most severe.
I recognize that a relatively brief post like this is unlikely to convince many people who have set positions on climate change. I can already anticipate a comment thread filled with charges and counter-charges over the science. But I hope this post has helped illustrate that the embrace of limited government principles need not entail the denial of environmental claims and that a concern for environmental protection need not lead to an ever increasing mound of prescriptive regulation. And for those who wish to explore these arguments in further detail, there’s lots more in the links I’ve provided throughout this post.
The links provided by Professor Adler, as he refers to above, are well-worth pursuing, so for that reason alone, I do recommend reading the whole Atlantic piece in full.