When Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) responded to news that key Republicans would be attending the upcoming United Nations Climate Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, he singled out Rep. Garrett Graves (R-LA) and Rep. John Curtis (R-UT) as “smart and knowledgeable.” Yet, Huffman also offered a demagogic broadside that is sadly par for the course in the climate debate.
“But if you are really listening to science and trying to meet the imperative of emissions reduction with urgency and transitioning away from fossil fuels,” Huffman told the Washington Examiner’s Josh Seigel, “I am not sure they are going to be singing from the same hymnal as the rest of the world in Glasgow.”
Huffman has no standing to lecture his colleagues about science. His party isn’t listening to climate scientists. They are listening to socialists and far-left activists. Climate scientists aren’t asking his party to irrationally reject nuclear energy, raise taxes, grow government and make climate progress contingent upon the enactment of unrelated socialist policies like universal pre-K, free college and single-payer, government run health care, which have no carbon reduction benefits. Socialists, not scientists, are making those demands.
Yet, Huffman is profoundly right about the hymnal. Conservatives do have a different hymnal. It is a better hymnal based on economic freedom. And it is worth turning the sound up to 11. Because we care deeply about people and environmental stewardship, conservatives at COP should sing from this hymnal with a clear and united voice.
That hymnal includes a few key hymns:
- Free economies are clean economies.
As our VP of policy Nick Loris writes, free economies are twice as clean as less free economies. Countries that have lower taxes and less regulation and who embrace the rule of law, property rights and free trade enjoy much cleaner environments. Promoting democracy over despotism is one of the most reliable ways to fight climate change.
- Innovation isn’t just a tool in the toolbox. It is the engine.
For conservatives, innovation is our primary, not secondary language. No system has lifted more people out of poverty or created more innovations that have improved people’s lives than the free enterprise system. Government policy is not on par with private sector innovation; it is vastly less effective. Breakthroughs happen in labs, not legislatures. It’s no surprise that the biggest breakthroughs in clean energy (such as fracking) were driven primarily by the private sector, not government.
- Do no harm. Embrace a Hippocratic Oath on climate.
Progressives and “the rest of the world” project confidence in a consensus that says innovation will only take us so far and won’t happen fast enough. What’s really needed to make things right, they argue, is the coercion of central planners. This is a perilous assumption. If you accept the premise that human-made climate change is a problem with some urgency (we do), the last thing you can afford to do is slow the engine of innovation. The developing world doesn’t need degrowth; it needs more growth that only a finely tuned engine of innovation can produce.
- It’s the people, stupid.
James Carville famously brought clarity and a winning message to Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign when he said, “it’s the economy, stupid.”
Conservatives can do the same by making it plain that “it’s the people, stupid.” On climate, progressives have lost the plot. The voices of ecological catastrophe warning us to save the planet seem to have forgotten that people are the priority. Conservatives have an opening to explain that we care about environmental stewardship because we care about people.
Like it or not, science suggests the planet will survive our present era of fossil fuel emissions. It may take 1,000 years for the planet to metabolize the CO2 we’re burning today but the earth will once again prove itself to be resilient as it has after previous adverse (i.e. asteroid) events. The problem is that while the planet is resilient, people are not. Case studies throughout history (i.e. the fall of the Mayans around 900 AD, the fall of Angkor in the 15th century, the Thirty Years War in the 1700s) show that even gradual changes in ecosystems and climate can wreak havoc on civilizations. It’s a stretch to claim that climate change was the primary cause of these conflicts and collapses but it is certainly one factor, which is why defense secretaries who served in both the Trump and Biden administration agree that climate change can make conflict more likely.
Because we care about people it’s important to study not just natural science but also political science and history. If climate change continues, confidence in institutions will melt long before the polar ice caps. In fact, we may be seeing this happen already. We’re perilously close to a political tipping point on climate at which the far left inflicts irreparable harm on our natural and economic environment. Progressives are two U.S. Senators away from enacting sweeping climate policies that will sabotage innovation and hurt poor people in the U.S. and across the globe.
- Climate change is a global challenge, and the Chinese Communist Party is increasingly the problem.
Climate change is a foreign policy challenge conservatives should run toward, not from. America and the West need to see the world as it is. We are engaged in a great power struggle with the central planners in Beijing. By not participating in COP, China will strengthen the hand of American conservatives who have long argued that de-linking climate from human rights is naïve appeasement. China, which is now producing more CO2 than the rest of the developing world combined, would love nothing more than to continue to toy with the West and manipulate us into committing anxiety-driven acts of economic self-harm. COP can be a platform to help conservatives in the free world reorientate our foreign policy around economic freedom and human rights just as Reagan and Thatcher helped defeat Soviet totalitarianism and end an Evil Empire. (Aside: nuclear war would have been very bad for the environment.)
At COP, conservatives should sing from the economic freedom hymnal at every opportunity and compete with other, more dour hymnals. America and the world, especially people living in poverty, need a power struggle and principled fight over climate policy. Civility isn’t an exchange of pleasantries, but the collision of principles resolved through compromise. President Biden will certainly make his voice heard at COP, and conservatives need to make sure their voices are heard too.