No Room for Conservatives in Climate Politics?

Ecomodern Dispatches

This week, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes tweeted a nice riff on why American conservatives remain so uniformly opposed to climate action. Among other things, Hayes wrote that “At one level resistance to climate change is perfectly natural for the right. They’ve seen (wrong) apocalyptic predictions before, they suspect the science is a stalking horse for more state involvement, and it’s a movement/party hugely backed by fossil fuels.”

Hayes here echoes important wisdom on conservatives and climate that has emerged over the past decade. As experts like Dan Kahan, Matt Nisbet, Dan Sarewitz, and others have explained, people view climate change (like everything else) through political and social lenses. A generation ago, experts introduced climate change to the general public as a problem to be solved by global treaties, massive government regulation, and -- among some popular writers -- an end to capitalism and economic growth.

So it’s kinda not surprising that conservatives reacted harshly to strong calls for climate policy.

What's done is done. My present concern is not why conservatives initially spurned climate change as a policy imperative. My question is whether liberals even want conservatives in the climate debate at all.

Exhibit A: Ben Adler’s post at Grist this week about Jay Faison, founder and CEO of the ClearPath Foundation.

ClearPath’s mission is to “accelerate conservative clean energy solutions.” The organization joins other right-leaning climate outfits, like R Street and Bob Inglis’ RepublicEn. ClearPath stands out, perhaps, by being more technology-focused and taking a more skeptical stance towards policies like a carbon tax than other conservative climate hawks have.

Adler’s problem is that the “conservative clean energy solutions” are not the solutions he likes. Specifically, he writes, “Faison doesn’t understand what clean energy is,” taking Faison to task for supporting fracking and questioning the scalability of wind and solar.

This post is not meant to adjudicate the right and wrong between the right and the left on climate. I would just observe that short-circuiting the left-vs.right climate debate before it even begins might prove counterproductive.

I don't mean to pick on Adler, Grist, ClearPath, or anyone. The problem transcends any one blog post or dispute. Liberals have spent well over a decade broiling up anger at “climate deniers” -- itself not exactly a recruiting tactic for lukewarm climate-skeptical conservatives. Indeed, the definition of the term “climate denial” has expanded beyond mere questioning of climate science to, for instance, not opposing a particular oil pipeline and embracing particular zero-carbon energy technologies.

So in some very real ways, it’s become impossible to support certain climate policies without being labeled a climate denier by influential environmental leaders. If even those conservatives that proudly state their concern for climate change face accusations of dishonesty, delusion, and denial, why would we ever expect anything resembling a productive national climate debate?

Ecomodern Dispatches

By Emma Brush

GMO Go: A very cool interactive presentation of the practice of genetic engineering as it plays out “in the real world” -- in Bangladesh, where genetically modified eggplants have recently been introduced. The story features interviews with farmers who have benefited from the technology, which reduces the need for pesticides and protects against the shoot borer worm. Most importantly, these new crops will increase the livelihoods of the farmers who depend on them.


Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis at WaPo on the future of hydro, which should involve investment and innovation, coupled with the consideration of adverse environmental impacts. Additionally, the DOE has just released a study entitled “Hydropower Vision,” which outlines the innovation and financing that could lead to an increase in hydropower generation and storage capacity from 101 gigawatts to 150 gigawatts by 2050. Julian Spector at Greentech Media reviews the technology development and upgrades that will be necessary for such a transformation, as well as the need for energy market reform and streamlining of the licensing process (as will also be necessary for a nuclear renaissance...).


Diane Cardwell at NYT on the difficult economics of solar, which is forcing many utilities to reformulate their rate designs.


It looks like New York might actually pass a clean energy standard that saves the state's threatened nuclear power plants.


Bill Gates, in his book review of Robert Gordon’s The Rise and Fall of American Growth, applauds Gordon’s portrayal of unprecedented growth from 1890 to 1970 but takes issue with his failure to perceive the continued growth that will be fueled by the digital revolution. Gates’s penultimate sentence says it all: “When it comes to choosing a side in the debate between optimism and pessimism, my money is on the incredible forces of technological progress at work every day.”


This editorial points to improvements in the beef production industry such as efficiency in irrigation and grain production -- advances “thanks in part to agricultural and natural resources research being done by institutions such as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln” -- and urges thoughtful debate and progress, especially in light of increasing global demands for red meat.


On ecosystem-based engineering for climate-change adaptation and risk reduction.