Cap And Trade

Published on November 13th, 2012 | by Stanford University


Can Conservatives Be Convinced On Climate Change?

November 13th, 2012 by  

Editor’s note: while many points below are true and useful, there is an underlying issue not explicitly stated here: fossil fuel and renewable energy options aren’t on level playing field because a strong, rich fossil fuel industry won’t “allow” that. Politicians on one side of the aisle are, for the most part, against anything that will challenge the industry’s profits. Politicians on that side of the aisle receive over 80% of donations from the oil industry, and a similar amount from the coal industry. While they say they support clean energy, they consistently block its progress and will not remove tax cuts for extremely rich fossil fuel industries (that harm society in many ways). That said, it would be nice if this minority of conservatives who show publicly that they are concerned about global warming (discussed below) could actually gain influence and shift the agenda of the majority of conservative politicians.

By Mark Golden

SACRAMENTO, Calif.–Opposition to action on global warming may seem to be almost a litmus test for Republican Party candidates, but conservative minds could be changed under the right circumstances, according to several conservative insiders.

The current U.S. policy of subsidizing fossil fuels is not in line with fundamental conservative values, and a deal to change that policy could be struck so long as it reduced the reach of the federal government, according to speakers at the Behavior, Energy & Climate Change conference this Monday.

“Since 1980 our foreign policy has been shaped by the Carter doctrine, which is that the United States should use whatever means necessary, including military intervention, to defend U.S. interests in the Middle East. Our dependence on oil undermines our foreign policy and national security,” said the founder of EnerGOP, Drexel Kleber.

The key is to delink energy from environmentalism, said Kleber, a former conservative talk radio host in Texas. “Climate change science is difficult to understand. Energy is personal. It’s my son being deployed to a war in Iraq or my loss of hunting grounds to transmission lines under eminent domain or getting in an argument with my wife over the empty checking account due to high gasoline prices,” he said. “Meanwhile, we are literally funding the greatest threat to this country–terrorism.”

The keys to a deal on climate change, according to Alex Bozmoski of the Energy & Enterprise Institute at George Mason University, would be to drop all subsidies for all forms of energy and to include external costs like defense spending and health impacts in the price of fossil fuels. But revenues from a tax on carbon must be offset by reductions on other taxes and by eliminating the many laws and regulations on greenhouse gases that have been enacted as proxies for such a tax. Preferably, Bozmoski added, conservatives would get to choose which taxes would be reduced.

“Nobody should be allowed to privatize their profits while socializing their costs,” he said. “Let energy sources compete on their merits rather than on their ability to secure political influence.”

That’s certainly something environmentalists and those in renewable energy industries have argued for, but they’ve been forced to focus on other types of solutions due to strong fossil fuel control over the political process.

“Without a limited-government solution on the table, denying climate change is a reasonable coping mechanism for conservatives,” Bozmoski told the predominantly liberal audience. “You need to throw all the talk about ‘cap and trade’ and ‘renewable portfolio standards’ on the trash heap of history and develop climate solutions that do not grow government.”

Kleber and Bozmoski are in the minority in their political party on the issue of climate change, but they are not alone. The conservative Hoover Institution’s task force on energy policy, led by former secretary of state George Shultz, is pushing for a revenue-neutral carbon tax as well. The moderator of Monday’s discussion, James Sweeney, is a conservative and the director of the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford University.

According to surveys performed by the Center for Climate Change Communication, also at George Mason University, the distance between conservatives and liberals is not as vast as one might think. Approximately half of registered Republicans would support action on climate change if it boosted clean energy jobs and reduced dependence on imported oil, according to the center’s Connie Roser-Renouf, a communications professor. Similarly, about 40 percent of conservatives would support a tax on carbon if the revenues paid down the national debt or reduced other taxes. However, conservatives fear that action on climate change will lead to more government intrusion and higher energy prices, and most do not see how it would improve national security. [Editor’s note: very important here is to recognize that these relatively “high” percentages of support for climate change action are not reflected in elected Republican voting or other action on such matters — as I’ve noted many times, there’s a big difference between what conservative voters want an what conservative politicians do.]

Pessimism is a problem for both conservatives and liberals, Roser-Renouf said. Only 6 percent of Americans, regardless of political affiliation, think that humans can effectively deal with the problem of global warming.

The annual Behavior, Energy & Climate Change conference is sponsored by Stanford University’s Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, the California Institute for Energy & the Environment, and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Mark Golden works in communications at the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford University.

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About the Author

-- Mark Golden works in communications for Stanford University, writing on the university's broad range of energy research. Coverage spans more than 200 faculty members, as well as dozens of independent labs and academic departments from fundamental sciences to law.

  • SecularAnimist

    The editor’s note which precedes this article is much more to the point than the article itself. The reality is that the so-called “conservative” legislators who deny the reality of anthropogenic global warming and oppose action to deal with it are not “conservative” at all — they are nothing but bought-and-paid-for stooges for the fossil fuel corporations. Their so-called “conservative” pseudo-ideology is as phony as their denialist pseudo-science, and both are just a bunch of nonsense with which to bamboozle gullible dupes. The only way to “convince” them is to pay them a bigger bribe than the Koch Brothers do.

  • arun1

    We need to invest in wind and solar farms on a war footing as these are everlasting energy sources. For example 400gw of wind and solar could supply all energy needs in UK forever, and we only need to build this capacity once.
    Just a few car factories , closing down for lack of demand, turned over to wind farms could give us this capacity within five years. London Array and other wind farms are already 1gw each and we just need a few hundred of these dotted around the island to become energy independent and prosperous for ever.

  • rkt9

    It matters not whether I can be convinced of climate change, I still don’t like oil being washed up on my beaches, nor do I like mercury in my fish and other foods. Having been in Los Angeles, Mexico City, and parts of China, I can also say that I much prefer the air I breath to be clean and fresh.

    • For the issues you mention, it matters now, but the point of needing buy-in on this issue is that we need a price on carbon (either through a carbon tax, cap & trade, or something else). And there has to be (political) consensus that carbon should be priced in order to implement such a policy.

  • wattleberry

    Who knows, maybe Mitt Romney will do another volte face ?

  • Nealicus

    Also, I have to say that I am an avid reader of Cleantech and consider myself a conservative on most issues. Why clean energy matters to me?

    1. Any business or institution should be interested in efficiency, essentially making their resources count for as much as they can.
    2. I think the US should be leading the way in new technologies and businesses that monotize those technologies.
    3. I hate the idea of money going to Chavez and the middle east
    4. Clean air and water are a big deal to me: I’m a fitness nut

    So in the end, there are many talking points that should convince people that clean energy is a good idea and it doesn’t have to end up resting on consensus on climate change. I’m glad some of these points were mentioned in the article and encourage anyone talking to conservative friends to bring these things up.

    If we don’t adjust, we’ll be paying an arm and a leg for fossil fuels or we’ll be paying China for solar panels and Japan for efficient cars.

    • Agreed, and I should certainly do a better job of #3, at least.

      But the point of needing buy-in on this issue is that we need a price on carbon (either through a carbon tax, cap & trade, or something else). And there has to be (political) consensus that carbon should be priced in order to implement such a policy.

  • Nealicus

    I’d love the link to where you discuss what conservative voters want and what Conservative politicians do, if it’s all discussed in one post somewhere.

    • unfortunately, it’s not (though, i’ve been planning to try to put together such a comprehensive piece). basically just a large scattering of polls showing that conservatives want clean energy and action on global warming, but consistent votes against those things from Republicans in Congress. there’s a schism here, but who actually pays attention to how politicians vote?

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