Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Sanders critics adopting the libertarian position on climate change

When the International Students for Liberty Conference was in town back in February, I had the chance to speak with a representative of the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) about the libertarian position in climate change.

For decades, of course, the standard libertarian position has been denial. Fossil-fuel funded think tanks and scientists have produced a massive body of disinformation designed to sew doubt and center national debates over whether the earth is even warming at all. The left, accordingly, has invested most of its energy in fighting this, and its environmentalism has often amounted to defending the basic point that climate change is real.

So I suspect that a lot of leftists would be surprised to learn that in recent years, libertarians have begun to concede this point entirely. As I spoke with the representative from PERC, she rehearsed the same line I've heard with increasing frequency: climate change is real, and free market capitalism is the best way to fix it.

"Global warming is indeed real, and human activity has been a contributor since 1975," the Cato Institute explains in its Cato Handbook for Policymakers. However, "Drastic action is unwarranted at this time," and we should instead "allow for the development of technologies that can result in lower emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere" rather than relying on government action that would "take away capital" (read: taxes) "in a futile attempt to stop warming, that would best be invested in the future".

These are the two major premises of the new climate denialism that I've identified previously: climate change is not an urgent problem, and it's within timely reach of market solutions. Like the old climate denialism, it's directly at odds with the science, which doesn't just demand action - it demands immediate action. But unlike the old denialism, this position isn't just defended by Republicans and libertarian radicals: it is rapidly becoming the consensus position of centrist neoliberalism, defended by Kochs and liberal Clintonites alike.

Which brings us to today's Washington Post:
Mr. Sanders is right that climate change demands an aggressive response, and he is right to favor a carbon tax. He should leave it at that: put a price on carbon, insist on adequate regulation and let the market find the fastest and most efficient road to slowing the warming of the planet.
This is the PERC position, almost verbatim. Unlike Cato, it rhetorically "demands an aggressive response" - but substantively, the only policy difference here is their advocacy of the empirically inadequate carbon tax. From the perspective of climate science, all three approaches are equally apocalyptic, for all the same reasons; once again, the radical right has lured liberals into an unacceptable position simply by inviting them to meet in the middle.