The Problem of Denial
At Master Resource, Jim Manzi synthesizes several objections he’s aired to comprehensive greenhouse gas regulations in one easy-to-read Thomas Friedman take-down. I find this stuff pretty persuasive, but it’s worth noting that there’s real tension between objections to cap-and-trade grounded in rigorous cost-benefit analysis and objections to cap-and-trade grounded in, well, Senator Inhofe’s belief that “global warming is the greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people.”
At its core, Manzi’s argument hinges on accepting the scientific consensus with respect to both the existence of global climate change and its probable impact. He uses the UN’s own projections to argue the economic costs of regulation outweigh the likelihood of catastrophic warming. On the other end of the conservative spectrum, we have people like Rick Santorum, whose recent op-ed helpfully compares anthropogenic global warming to other well-known examples of crank science like The Theory of Evolution.
Aside from lazily gesturing at the uncertainty of scientific knowledge and repeating “ClimateGate” over and over again, Santorum doesn’t really have an argument against the existence of climate change. Unfortunately, this outlook seems to be the dominant strain of thought on the American Right (granted, the leaked CRU emails didn’t help matters). The problem with this approach is that straightfoward denialism is totally inconsistent with any attempt to grapple with the real costs of emissions controls – if there’s no danger from unregulated greenhouse gasses, why bother to see if the actual science of global warming demands immediate action?
Straightforward denialism allows those who favor aggressive emissions controls to shape the public’s perception of climate science. Instead of sober cost-benefit analysis, people who basically accept the existence of global warming (read: most of the voting public) are now more likely to think that climate change is catastrophic rather than incremental. The longer the right’s response to anthropogenic warming is dominated by the likes of Inhofe and Santorum, the longer this perception will linger, which doesn’t bode well for efforts to stop monstrously expensive cap-and-trade legislation.