A conservative's approach to combating climate change

My argument is that the same general principles that lead libertarians and conservatives to call for greater protection of property rights should lead them to call for greater attention to the most likely effects of climate change. It is a well recognized principle of common law that if company A is flooding the land of person B, it is irrelevant whether company A generates lots of economic prosperity for the local community (including B). A’s action would still violate B’s property rights, and B would be entitled to relief of some sort. By the same token, if the land of a farmer in Bangladesh is flooded, due in measurable and provable part to human-induced climate change, why would he be any less entitled to redress than a farmer who has his land flooded by his neighbor’s land-use changes? Property rights should not be sacrificed as part of some utilitarian calculus. Libertarians readily accept this principle when government planners violate property rights in the name of economic development (see e.g., Kelo v. New London). Yet they seem to abandon their commitment to property rights when it comes to global warming. …

Accepting that global warming is a serious problem does not require the embrace of federal regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, as currently undertaken by the EPA. I have been quite critical of these efforts, which I believe are based on a misinterpretation of the Act by the Supreme Court. CAA regulation will be extremely costly but will not produce emission reductions sufficient to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. The pork-laden cap-and-trade legislation passed by the House of Representatives would not be much better. What then should we do?

If the effects of global warming are to be mitigated, it is necessary to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases at a reasonable level. The emission reductions necessary for this to be achieved are enormous, and far beyond the capability of existing technologies. Just to reach a reasonable intermediate target the U.S. would have to reduce its emissions to levels not seen in 100 years, and reduce per capita emissions to levels not seen since Reconstruction. And even this would not be enough, for if equivalent emission reductions are not made elsewhere, it would all be for naught. As I explain in the first part of this paper, dramatic technological innovation is necessary to address the threat of climate change.

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