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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Moving Beyond Denial

Air Date: Week of

Cover from the June 25, 2007 issue. (Courtesy of National Review)

A leading magazine of conservative thought just published a cover article arguing that conservatives should accept the science of climate change and move on to figure out what to do about the problem. Host Steve Curwood talks with Jim Manzi, author of “Game Plan: A Conservative Strategy on Global Warming” in the latest issue of the National Review.


CURWOOD: The prospects for comprehensive federal legislation to combat climate change got a boost recently when republican senator John Warner of Virginia joined the longtime bipartisan efforts of Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. Warner is one of the most powerful republicans in the Senate, and his endorsement of a cap-and-trade system to limit carbon emissions is the latest sign of a significant shift among those on the right when it comes to the climate issue. The National Review has also jumped on the bandwagon. This leading journal of conservative intellectual thought is running a cover story urging conservatives to drop their skepticism of climate change and start figuring out what to do about it. Software executive Jim Manzi wrote the article. He says it’s time for a change.

MANZI: I believe that it is no longer possible either scientifically or politically to deny the science of global warming that makes specific claims, namely that it’s very likely that human activity has increased global temperatures. And by extension that’s likely to happen in the future. And I think conservatives have really painted themselves into a corner by trying to deny that science and it would be better for everyone if we could accept the science and move on to the question of what to do about it.

National Review contributor Jim Manzi (Courtesy of Jim Manzi)

CURWOOD: Now, the record would show that a number of conservatives were involved with what’s sometimes called a deliberate campaign of misinformation about the science around climate change. Why did conservatives get in to something which really clearly misstates the science, a disinformation campaign if you will?

MANZI: It’s my view that the best progress will be made here by not assuming malevolent motivation on any side of the this debate. I think conservatives reasonably viewed the likely policy implication of accepting the reality of global warming as being a major power grab to exert government control over the economy. They resisted accepting the scientific premise that global warming is real. And, I think that in retrospect that was a mistake. I think that game is just about up. And conservatives now find themselves walking unprepared into the middle of a very sophisticated scientific and economic conversation about how to deal with the problem.

CURWOOD: What should conservatives do now about climate change? The public basically distrusts the conservative point of view on this because of its assault on the basic science here. How can conservatives move forward with this?

MANZI: Well, I think that conservatives need to put forward a responsible political program to deal with this challenge, to view it primarily as a problem of insurance, that is insuring against the possibility that we will have very negative human implications of climate change. I think that on one hand, that strategy ought to focus on technology as opposed to taxes and I put forward a number of specific areas around prediction technology, mitigation technology and adaptation technology that I think ought to be part of any program to deal with global warming. I believe that climate change is a manageable risk not some existential crisis and the less this becomes a debate about political philosophies, and world views and so on and the more it becomes a technical discussion of how do we limit this risk and deal with any problems that occur almost at a technical level we’ll make a lot more progress.

Cover from the June 25, 2007 issue. (Courtesy of National Review)

CURWOOD: Jim Manzi, let me ask you about the proposals in the current energy bill that is on Capitol Hill right now. For instance what’s wrong or right with a renewable portfolio standard? That is a call on utilities to lower their carbon footprint, or a cap-and-trade program with the idea again of lowering the amount of carbon that’s emitted?

MANZI: In general a cap-and-trade program, which is for all practical purposes like a virtual tax on carbon, is not a smart policy because the amount of emission reduction or abatement that is justified by current expectations of warming is small enough that we can much more easily address this through targeted technology changes than trying to introduce a massive, which is what this would be, re-engineering of our industrial economy to try to pull carbon emissions out.

CURWOOD: Conservation measures in other words or efficiency measures.

MANZI: Exactly.

CURWOOD: What about wind, solar, geothermal, the stuff that the (clears throat) forgive me, the Democrats talk about?

MANZI: Uh, look you know, look I went to MIT. I am in favor of science making life better. And I think that as alternative fuels become as they are over time more and more competitive with carbon-based fossil fuels essentially, we will continue to push carbon naturally out of our economy. And that’s things like wind, solar, new nuclear technology and so forth. And I think that targeted investments in those kinds of technologies help accelerate that reduction in unit cost in those alternative fuel technologies are great ideas for lots of reasons.

CURWOOD: At the end of your article, Jim, you write that “global warming can feel like a looser political issue to conservatives. One in which the only objective is to minimize both political and economic damage. But getting past denial and taking a science based approach to the issue, a clever candidate” and here you’re writing about a possible candidate for president, “a clever candidate could take a principled stand that pays major tactical dividends. Global warming could be the first wedge issue of the 21st century.” What do you mean by that?

MANZI: Well, I mean that for reasons we have been discussing, conservatives have been on the defensive on this issue and in my view by accepting the science that’s actually proven I believe that conservatives can put forward an alternative program for dealing with this challenge that is much better scope to the size and nature of the challenge. And as I put forward in this article I believe that using a technology based, low cost optimistic program for how to deal with this problem is both the better way to approach the problem objectively, and also one which is likely to be much more attractive to voters than the alternative program of restrictions on economic growth and carbon emissions for the purpose of mitigation.

CURWOOD: Jim Manzi is the author of the National Review cover story “Game Plan: A Conservative Strategy on Global Warming.” Thanks for joining us Jim.

MANZI: Thank you very much.

CURWOOD: You can find more of our interview with Jim Manzi by logging on to LOE dot org.



National Review

Free Library link to Manzi’s National Review article

Click to hear a longer version of Steve Curwood’s conversation with Jim Manzi.


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