Soon after Peter Wehren broke with conservative orthodoxy (A Thoughtful Conservative Perspective – Part I) by urging conservatives to accept the reality of climate change and move on to solutions, Commentary editor Jonathan Tobin issued a sharp rebuttal.
Tobin charges that environmentalists are responsible for conservative skepticism, provoked by “invective” spewed by “warming hysterics like Al Gore” harboring “neo-socialist beliefs.” Tobin warns darkly that the “ideological fervor of the warmers smacks of previous attempts by intellectuals to dictate economic practices. . . [which] led inevitably to sorrow and often slaughter.” From cap-and-trade to gulags and killing fields.
Wehren replied immediately, in “Conservatives and Climate Change: Facts Need To Be Our Guiding Star,” politely but firmly suggesting that rather than focusing so much on the behavior and motives of alarmists, conservatives should focus on the “stubborn facts” of climate change. Here is a key passage:
“It’s simply not the case that this field of science is entirely corrupt or that the vast majority of climate scientists are dishonest and/or being intimidated to state conclusions with which they disagree.
“I understand the skepticism that exists (I shared in it, in fact, until I began to explore this matter in a more systematic way). I would therefore urge people to read the careful work of Richard Muller, who was skeptical that global warming has taken place but has now concluded it is real (for more, see here). One might study this report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ICPP). Alternatively, read this report by the National Academy of Sciences, which is trustworthy. . .There are several others I could cite.
“The point is that these reports are sober, measured and serious. . . it matters that all the world’s major science academies have said that AGW is occurring, and they have supplied the empirical case for their findings. The challenge for conservatives is to engage the most serious and honest arguments of those who believe in AGW, not simply lock in on the global alarmists. 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.”
“. . .to insist that AGW is a hoax, the product (more or less) of a massive conspiracy, is, I believe, damaging to conservatism. . . 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.”
The contrast in tone and logic between Tobin and Wehner shows two faces of neo-conservatism. One fearful and polemical, eyeing the Cold War, the other confident and reasoned, looking to the future. Taken together, it’s a fascinating debate that illuminates the fears and concerns that underlie many conservatives’ resistance to the “stubborn facts” of climate science. In many cases, these fears and concerns must be taken seriously and addressed in order to give the facts “a fighting chance.”
Most importantly, Wehner shows that — far removed from the sound-and-fury of the primary campaign trail — some intellectually-honest conservatives are trying to grapple with the evidence and starting to think about solutions. Will other conservatives voices join him? Stay tuned.
Update 1/1/12: Michael Tobin replied once more to Wehner, on 12/23/11, but in a far more moderate tone. Indeed Tobin accepts Wehner’s main point, that
“. . . most scientists seem to think that a) there is no doubt about both the nature of the threat of climate change; b) the responsibility of humans for the problem; and c) the need for us to adopt stringent measures in response. . . “
But then Tobin goes on, to add that
“. . . many respected members of the scientific community still do not subscribe to these views. One such, Richard Lindzen. . . “
Of course, the term “many” is a gross overstatement of the number of dissenters like Lindzen, who comprise a miniscule 2-3% of active climate researchers.