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"I was defeated by facts" How a sceptic changed his mind about climate change

  • 20 Apr 2011, 16:00
  • The Carbon Brief

"I was defeated by facts," writes the Republican Massachusetts based blogger D. R. Tucker at the FrumForum website. The freelance writer and radio host has explained why, as a member of the "urban right", he has changed his mind about climate change.  

"It wasn't all that long ago when I joined others on the right in dismissing concerns about climate change. It was my firm belief that the science was unsettled, that any movement associated with Al Gore and Van Jones couldn't possibly be trusted, that environmentalists were simply left-wing, anti-capitalist kooks."

This response to the public debate on climate change will be familiar to right wing Conservatives and libertarians in the UK, who have seen environmental groups call for state intervention and higher taxation in some areas to deal with global warming.

Tucker writes that he began to question his instinctive rejection of the science of climate change after reading Professor Morris Fiorina's book  Disconnect  (2009).

"Fiorina noted that while environmentalism is now considered the domain of the Democratic Party, for many years it was the GOP [Republican Party] that was identified with conservationist concerns. I was curious as to how the political climate shifted with regard to environmentalism - and whether there was something to all this talk about climate change."

So he took the unusual step of reading the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was published in 2007.

He writes:

"I began reading the report with a skeptical eye, but by the time I concluded I could not find anything to justify my skepticism. The report presented an airtight case that the planet's temperature has increased dramatically … that sea levels have undergone a dramatic and disturbing increase since the 1960s … and that climate alteration is having an unusual impact on avian and sea life.

"I was stunned by the report's claim that '[t]he observed widespread warming of the atmosphere and ocean, together with ice mass loss, support the conclusion that it is extremely unlikely that global climate change of the past 50 years can be explained without external forcing and very likely that it is not due to known natural causes alone'."

He adds:

"I came away from the report convinced that climate alteration poses a critical threat to our health and way of life, and that 'policies that provide a real or implicit price of carbon' are in fact necessary, from an economic and a moral standpoint, to mitigate that threat. Such policies-most notably the much-maligned concept of cap-and-trade-should not be considered job-killers but life-savers.

"There's a part of me that understands why libertarian pundits seem to have so much scorn for those who support state action to combat carbon emissions. Modern libertarianism is suffused with skepticism of government, and supporting state regulation of carbon emissions requires, on some level, a belief in government to get things right."

He then asks:

"Is it even possible to be a libertarian and an environmentalist - or a conservative and an environmentalist, for that matter? I'm a bit skeptical myself. I'd argue that conservatives and libertarians should strongly support regulation to reduce carbon pollution, since pollution by one entity invariably infringes upon the rights of others (including property rights), and no entity has a constitutional right to pollute.

"It does not put America on the road to serfdom to suggest that the federal government has a compelling interest in protecting the country from ecological damage. If anything, it puts America on the road to common sense."

The US blogger is writing on website that says it is "dedicated to the modernisation and renewal of the Republican party and the conservative movement".

He continues:

"Since reconsidering climate science, I've had a number of debates with conservative and libertarian friends, who oppose government regulation of carbon emissions in part because they believe those regulations will cost too much. Of course regulations cost; limiting ecological damage and preserving public health requires money.

"The issue is whether those costs are moral to impose. If no entity has a constitutional right to pollute, and if the federal government has a compelling interest in reducing carbon pollution, then how can those costs not be moral?"

To conclude he presents an interesting warning. Those who ideologically and emotionally support Republicans will find it increasingly difficult to defend a party that appears anti-science and pro-pollution.

"In the months following my acceptance of the conclusions in the IPCC report, I've had a change in my emotional climate. I go back and forth between disappointment and hope-sadness over seeing Republicans who once believed in the threat of climate change (such as Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty) suddenly turn into skeptics; optimism about efforts by such groups as Republicans for Environmental Protection and Citizens Climate Lobby to sound the alarm about the need to combat climate pollution.

"I struggle with the urge to give in to cynicism and bitterness, to write off the American right for its refusal to recognize scientific facts. Thankfully, there's a stronger urge - an urge to keep working until the American right recognizes that a healthy planet is required to have the life and liberty that allows us to pursue happiness."

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