Global warming alarmism exists (no, the world is not going to end in 12 years) and some liberals really do exploit it to try to advance their agenda, e.g., the Green New Deal. I’m not one of them. I’m a climate scientist who teaches a class at the University of Chicago about global warming, and politically, I’m a centrist. I believe global warming presents a surmountable challenge to society that people of all political affiliations can work together to address. Moreover, I’d argue that the conservative spirit can actually provide strong motivation for addressing global warming. I am even willing to speculate that conservative solutions to the problem of global warming may end up being the most durable and beneficial ones.
I categorically reject the idea that you should just “believe the science” about global warming (or anything else). Instead, I am going to give you a summary of the evidence and let you decide for yourself how strong the case is. We have good records showing the global-mean temperature of the planet has increased by 2.1 degrees Fahrenheit over the last 170 years. Over the same time period the atmospheric carbon dioxide level has increased by almost 50%, from 280 parts per million to 410 parts per million. We have actually burned enough fossil fuels to have increased the atmospheric carbon dioxide by twice this much, but plants and the ocean are taking up half of our emissions.
The observed global-mean temperature increase is the amount we would expect from the observed carbon dioxide increase based on radiative physics (which describes the emission, absorption, and transmission of electromagnetic radiation). If we burn all of the coal and gas still available to us, the carbon dioxide level will increase to about a factor of four above present levels. Although there is some uncertainty, this would likely increase the global-mean temperature by about 15 degrees Fahrenheit.
For comparison, the global-mean temperature was 11 degrees Fahrenheit lower at the height of the last ice age, when Chicago was covered with half a mile of ice. A 15 degrees Fahrenheit increase in global-mean temperature would cause large changes in farming conditions, water resources, and coastal flooding. These problems would be exacerbated if they lead to human conflict and warfare.
There are good, conservative reasons for wanting to prevent this from happening. Pope Francis, Patriarch Bartholomew, and the late Chief Rabbi Sacks have all affirmed the theological justification for environmental conservation. Their argument is based on our role as God’s stewards of Earth, as well as our duty to love our neighbor and to care for the poor. We can also apply conservative hero Edmund Burke’s arguments about society to the planet. After all, the global environment is an extremely complex system that we don’t fully understand. If we start changing it thoughtlessly, shouldn’t we expect problems just like if we start changing society thoughtlessly?
Business leaders should be aware that a low-probability climate catastrophe can dominate a cost-benefit analysis, making addressing global warming the smart business choice, despite the discounting of future costs. Even libertarians should be concerned about global warming because of the damage it could do to privately held property.
In the face of the challenges posed by global warming, my role as a scientist is to offer you an informed, unbiased picture of what we know about the issue. Others need to take the lead in making specific policy recommendations, and I’m confident conservatives will help lead the charge. For example, Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy argued for gradual changes to industry and emphasized nuclear power generation in a recent statement. Republican Mayor Suarez promoted the $400-million Miami Forever Bond, which will fund infrastructure investments to combat sea-level rise and flooding. Republican Senator Mitt Romney advocates incentivizing research into low-carbon-emission, inexpensive technologies. And Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has started a climate initiative that focuses on developing concrete and practical climate solutions as well as helping businesses, governments, and NGOs adopt them.
In sum, I believe that conservation is conservative; it is not an accident that the words share the same root. Global warming is similar to the problem of poverty: liberals and conservatives share the goal of reducing poverty, they just have different ideas about how to do it. Given their strong moral values, sense of duty, and can-do attitude, it would not surprise me if conservatives end up finding the best solutions to the problem of global warming.
*The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker.
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