Saturday, November 19, 2016

Generic Republicans in Power: Climate Regulations

For many on my side of the aisle, the ultimate, most important issue is global warming.  Stripping millions of their health insurance will be carry so high a political price that some sort of accommodation will have to be reached.  Repealing financial regulations -- well, our finance system is strong now, and even if it has a crisis we will survive.  And the earth will survive millions losing their health insurance, or a financial crisis.  Hell, the earth will even survive Donald Trump hitting ISIS with a nuclear weapon.

But global warming could mean the future of the planet.  Jonathan Chait give global warming along as reason to vote for Hillary.  Now Trump is President, and gutting environmental legislation is one of the Republicans' top priorities.  Republicans eagerly seek to repeal as many environmental regulations as possible and Trump wants out of the Paris Agreement.  Repealing anti-global warming measures is a major Republican priority.*

The need for environmental regulations is a well-established part of classical economic theory. Pollution is considered to be an "externalized cost," i.e., one imposed by the polluter on unconsenting third parties, and therefore a legitimate object of regulation so as to internalize the costs.  But despite having a definite libertarian theory to justify environmental regulation, conservatives are intensely opposed to all environmental regulation in general and global warming in particular.

Republicans see the whole concept of global warming as profoundly morally repugnant -- something against their deepest principles.  The most obvious reasons are practical ones.  Republicans don't want to make the lifestyle changes associated with fighting global warming.  The changes called for (drive cars less, use public transportation more, consider greater population density and mixed use neighborhoods) all sound suspiciously like an attempt to impose what is liberals' favored lifestyle anyhow.  The fossil fuels industry are major Republican economic interests.  And so forth.

And certainly one can argue that any arguments Republicans offer against global warming are mere rationalizations.  But there really do hew to Haidt's moral foundations in a way that has deep resonance to conservatives.  To religious conservatives, God made the world for humans' benefit and wouldn't allow such a thing to happen.  For libertarian conservatives, the free market works out the ideal solutions to all problems and wouldn't allow such a thing to happen.  To justice-as-karma types, it seems grossly unfair to treat carbon dioxide as a pollutant when every breath you take so long as you live puts out carbon dioxide.  Why should people be punished for doing what they cannot help doing, what we would die if we did not do, and for producing a perfectly natural substance, one that gives food to plants.**  And to people who are fierce in their protection of national sovereignty, the fact that fighting global warming calls for international cooperation is itself reason to condemn such attempts as evil.***

So, most conservatives see global warming as profoundly against their principles.  Unfortunately, scientific fact is under no obligation to respect anyone's principles.  Sometimes debates over global warming seem almost like something from a Monty Python skit:

DENIER:   I don't believe in global warming.  It's against my principles.

SCIENTIST:  But there's no principle involved,  It's scientific fact.

DENIER:   Your scientific facts are against my principles.

Chait's hope was that four more years with a Democrat to veto Republican attempts at sabotage would be enough to lock in green technologies and make them beyond the power of Republicans to uproot.  But now Republican hold the triple crown and are eager to roll back any attempt to fight global warming.  And there is even less of a groundswell of public opinion to resist than with financial regulation.

So what can we do?

A number of things.  Environmental groups can hold up attempts to reverse environmental regulations, sue and drag things out until (they hope) cleaner technologies become irreversible.  Democratic Senators can filibuster legislation to weaken environmental rules (for instance, a statute forbidding the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide), or to abolish the EPA altogether (an idea that some Republicans are tossing around).  Although whether Senate Republicans will rescind the filibuster is anyone's guess.  States and localities can continue to pass stringent regulation against pollution.  Other countries can develop clean technologies.  We can build a constituency for clean energy.

But ultimately thing look bleak. While I am inclined to think that any attempt to abolish the EPA altogether will meet with too much resistance to pass, attempts to weaken, limit, and underfund it will undoubtedly succeed.

Another thing I think we need to do is find another vocabulary to talk to conservatives about global warming.  One thing I noticed in a comments section was that a whole lot of them were dismissive of any concerns over global warming and said that the only real environmental issue in this country was halting illegal immigration because more people (in the form of immigrants) were increasing the burden on the environment.  That is certainly a frustrating opinion for anyone who sees environmental problems in global terms.  But there is the tiny glimmer of something useful there. Quite simply, global warming is affecting the global South more than the global North.  Rising sea levels are threatening to flood coastlines.  Bangladesh could become completely uninhabitable.

So my plea to conservatives would be, listen guys, if Bangladesh becomes uninhabitable, the people of Bangladesh aren't going to just sit there and drown and save you from having to worry about them. They will respond by leaving the country.  Bangladesh has an estimated population of nearly 170,000,000, about 88% Muslim.  Many of them will be heading our way.  Telling them to go back home will not be a viable option when "home" no longer exists.  Many believe that global warming related droughts were what led to the civil war in Syria that has been flooding Europe with refugees. In short, if we don't stop global warming there will be immigration on a scale hitherto unimagined.  A whole lot of bleeding hearts just won't be able to turn people back to uninhabitable countries.  Is this what you want to happen?  All right, then, let's start taking strenuous action to stop it!  Besides, flooding in coastal areas of the US will mean more of those snooty coastal elitists heading into your community to look down on you.  So let's stop that from happening, shall we?

*Sometimes I truly believe that a lot of conservatives who do believe in global warming have convinced themselves that it is benign and actively want to set it on an irreversible trajectory so that we can say it is impossible to stop, so we can all pollute to our heart's content now.
**Of course, by the same standard, we wouldn't need a sewage system either.  After all, you are talking about a perfectly natural substance, one that all living animals produce and can't help producing, one that gives food to plants.  But most people still don't want it in their drinking water.  Go figure.
***And I will once again give my boss's viewpoint.  Although not a Trump fan, he is a Republican and very much a supporter of Republican plans to cut taxes and gut regulations, and apparently willing to grit his teeth and endure Trump to get that done.  He was rejoicing about all the economic growth that will be spurred by repealing environmental regulations.  I said that I supposed that depended on whether you believed in global warming.  He answered, "The question is, do I care about global warming."  I said that if it is true, it can have catastrophic consequences.  He dismissed them as things he wouldn't be around to see.  I said that his son (who just graduated from high school earlier this year) will be around to see them.  He gave a dismissive answer.  But I know that he loves his son dearly and cares a great deal about his future, so I can only assume that he doesn't really at the gut level believe in global warming, even if he is not going to take the trouble to argue against scientific consensus.

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