With Trump’s appointment of Scott Pruitt to the EPA, and the accompanying flood of editorials about climate denial and climate alarmism, it’s a good time to consider why skepticism of climate change remains such a popular attitude among conservatives.
Certainly, a lot of skepticism is driven by plain old economic interests. Oil and gas companies aren’t exactly going to cheer the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. There’s also the fact that any real positive climate-policy impact—as a result of sharply reduced emissions—will not be observable for decades, making it both politically and psychologically distant. But none of this should cause ordinary people—many of whom are both highly intelligent and owe none of their income to the oil and gas industry—to deny the science of climate change. There’s another reason, I think, why the whole concept is met with such resistance.
A lot of it comes down to the fact that, from a conservative point of view, climate change looks like too good a problem for liberals. Everything liberals want, or that conservatives think liberals want—more regulation, more control of the economy, more redistribution of wealth, skepticism or hostility towards capitalism and of America’s status as an affluent superpower—are suggested or required by the reality of climate change. The conservative sees liberals rubbing their hands together at the prospect of a problem that needs such solutions, and he thinks, “No, such a perfect problem couldn’t ‘just happen’ to arise—it must be invented or massively overstated.”
I recently read Roger Scruton’s How to Think Seriously About the Planet and Ronald Bailey’s The End of Doom, which both made me feel much better about humanity’s chances of avoiding some kind of worst-case environmental crisis. Both authors take the middle road between denial and alarmism, suggesting that while there certainly does seem to be a serious problem demanding our attention, the solutions are most likely to be found in continued innovation and the evolution of economic growth. Of course, they may very well be voices in the wilderness, but it’s still refreshing to read such perspectives, especially if, like me, you were more or less raised on the kind of substance-free, hysterical environmentalism-as-a-surrogate religion as typified by Naomi Klein’s latest incoherent jeremiad.