Conservatives need to offer alternative climate change policies

Kevin Kane President, Pelican Institute
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In recent years, conservative and libertarian scholars have succeeded in raising questions about some of the more apocalyptic claims regarding climate change made by environmentalists on the political left. They have done an even better job at highlighting the unacceptable costs associated with the policy prescriptions offered by Democrats, such as cap and trade.

Preventing the enactment of bad policy is critical, especially in states enjoying the benefits of the natural gas revolution – like Louisiana. So Republicans should continue to refute the Al Gore-style hyperbole. Likewise, they should continue to highlight the shortcomings of policy proposals coming from “greens” on the left. It is important for voters to understand that policies limiting access to affordable energy will stunt economic growth and burden Americans struggling to pay their bills.

But raising questions about worst-case scenarios and rejecting utopian schemes should not be the extent of the conservative message on climate change. Failing to engage in an issue that concerns millions of Americans is like trying to win a football game without ever going on offense. Further, one can argue that some of our worst laws have been enacted in part because over the years Republicans have been too slow to offer appealing alternatives to voters. The Affordable Care Act is one of many examples that come to mind.

Therefore, those of us who support free markets should strive to identify and promote policies that ameliorate the risks associated with climate change while advancing prosperity. While some have argued that climate change is a fiction or that it cannot be impacted through public policy, we should remember the cardinal virtue of prudence. The idea that we should take steps to prepare for worse-than-expected outcomes is entirely consistent with conservative thought, and it certainly applies to the issue of climate change.

To dismiss this threat as a nonexistent would be reckless, particularly here in Louisiana, where coastal erosion and exposure to hurricanes and flooding make even the mildest climate change scenarios a matter of real concern.

Fortunately, Republicans can offer a range of policy alternatives that address this issue while advancing conservative goals of lowering taxes and reducing red tape. These policies include increased lower-carbon energy development (with an emphasis on natural gas), repeal of inefficient ethanol mandates, replacing burdensome Clean Air Act regulations with more sensible policies, reductions in corporate welfare programs that encourage maladaptive policies with regard to climate change, changes to programs like flood insurance that encourage people to live in harm’s way, and a greater commitment to scientific research. These sorts of reforms would generate economic development and encourage innovation, without relying on unsustainable subsidies.

While ideologues on the left would reject many of these proposals, that should not stop conservatives from making them. The remarkable growth of the conservative movement over the past half-century means that we can do more than “stand athwart history, yelling Stop.” Conservatives should craft their own message regarding the potential hazards of climate change, rather than remaining silent and allowing the left to claim ownership of yet another issue.