The Volokh Conspiracy

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Climate Change

How Conservatives (and Libertarians) Should Respond to Climate Change

Dismissing climate science, the IPCC, and the costs of climate change are neither prudent nor responsible.


Today in The Bulwark I offer my thoughts on how folks on the political right should (and should not) respond to the threat of climate change. In short, I argue that it's perfectly reasonable to reject the progressive climate agenda, but not reasonable at all to pretend that climate change is not a serious concern that merits a serious policy response.

Here's a taste:

Even if one believes the likelihood of catastrophic climate change is small, the consequences are sufficiently grave to justify prudent measures to reduce the likelihood and magnitude of adverse events. You don't install smoke alarms, acquire fire extinguishers, and buy home insurance because you expect a house fire. Rather, you recognize the value of insuring against low-probability/high-magnitude events. The costs and dislocation resulting from your house burning down are sufficiently grave that they justify prudent investments that will reduce the likelihood and the consequences of such an event.

A similar logic applies to many larger risks that require collective action, as conservatives have been willing to recognize in other contexts. During the Cold War, for example, conservatives supported significant defense spending not because Soviet aggression was certain, but because even a low-likelihood conflict could have disastrous consequences. Accordingly, national security policy combined measures that would make the likelihood of a confrontation with the USSR both less likely and less severe.

Thus even if one believes that cataclysmic climate change is unlikely, this does not justify a do-nothing response. The question is not whether climate policies are necessary. Rather the question is which policy responses can be justified as prudent, cost-effective ways to reduce the magnitude of potential warming, the likelihood of adverse consequences, or both. In other words, what sorts of prudent steps can be taken to reduce the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere so as to reduce the amount of warming (mitigation) as well as to reduce the negative consequences such warming may bring (adaptation). . . .

Accepting the seriousness of climate change does not require accepting the progressive policy playbook. To the contrary, taking climate change seriously calls for alternative (and more conservative) approaches.

As they say, read the whole thing.