The last few weeks have seen a deluge of headlines about extreme weather. We’ve seen heat waves and record temperatures around the world in places like Oregon, Washington, Montana, Turkey Japan, and Northern Ireland. Floods ravaged Germany. The Great Salt Lake in Utah is shrinking. And water levels in Lake Mead, which powers the Hoover Dam and provides clean drinking water to about 25 million people in states like California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah, are dangerously low.
Sadly, as is always the case with climate change, extreme weather events are accompanied by extreme rhetoric events that lack intellectual integrity. Rather than seeing extreme weather news as a problem, conservatives should see it as an opportunity to talk about science clearly and accurately while promoting solutions that will work. As conservatives think about extreme weather, I’d suggest we keep five points in mind.
Getting the right facts is as important as getting the facts right
In the climate debate, I’d propose the right facts are:
- The greenhouse effect is real
- CO2 is a greenhouse gas
- There is a strong correlation between increasing CO2 concentrations, which are now at their highest levels in 3.6 million years (421 PPM), and increasing global temperatures
- Climate change is a global challenge because greenhouse gases don’t respect national borders
Others may come up with different right facts, or pillars, that support a way of thinking about and solving the problem, but if we want to persuade people and offer credible solutions it’s important to think in terms of right facts and not merely true facts. For instance, it’s true we’ve seen extreme weather in the past and it’s true that human beings have done a remarkable job of adapting to extreme weather. Those are fine points, but so what? They may be true facts but they’re not necessarily the right facts for this debate.
Asking the right questions is as important as finding the right answer
Asking whether any single extreme weather event “proves” global warming misses the point. The science of climate change doesn’t work that way. No single weather event, however extreme or tragic, can prove or disprove the claim that humans are causing the planet to warm. Instead, every event is a piece of evidence that can be submitted into the record and can add to our body of knowledge and understanding.
The binary question of whether climate change is real or not doesn’t take us very far. The more meaningful questions are 1) What is the risk? and, 2) What should we do about it?
Skepticism and curiosity are good; the climate apocalypse vs. climate atheism fight is not
As the graph above shows, there is uncertainty about risk. In fact, the easiest thing to prove in this debate is uncertainty. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make an informed attempt to measure this risk.
A bell curve or risk distribution table is one of the best tools to understand the problem. The chart above claims there is roughly a 90 percent chance we’ll end up with a temperature increase between 1.83 Celsius and 4.64 Celsius. There is a five percent chance temperatures will be below that range, and a five percent chance temperatures will be higher. The task is to shrink the tail risk (the five percent on the right) to that point at which it’s not irrational to be concerned about very bad outcomes.
Here’s an analogy: Imagine checking in to a hotel where the front desk says, “Elevators are to your right, breakfast is served until 10 am and there’s a 1 in 20 chance you’ll be bitten by a rattlesnake during your sleep.” The goal is to shrink that risk so low you can sleep easily at night.
Because our political and media economy rewards people who are in either five percent camp the risk debate is skewed and distorted by political tribalism and opportunism. Until recently, the dominant conservative strategy was to downplay risk and proselytize a pseudo-religious response (climate atheism) to a pseudo-religious claim (climate apocalypse). Thankfully, that is changing on the right where climate realism is taking over. Climate atheism has brought us dangerously close to a political tipping point where progressives are literally one vote away from enacting their radical and socialist Green New Deal.
The Green New Deal will do nothing to make extreme weather less likely
The GND doesn’t dwell in the world of reality or right facts because it ignores emissions from outside the United States. China, for instance, emits more CO2 than the rest of the developing world combined. In a real sense, climate change is increasingly becoming an issue of China change. China is helping to bake Salt Lake and drain water from Lake Mead.
Instead of pushing a responsible “all of the above energy” strategy that prioritizes all forms of energy, the GND’s “everything but” fossil fuels and nuclear energy stance is anti-science and grossly irresponsible. Cleaner burning natural gas (note: nothing has done more to reduce emissions the past 15 years than fracking) and zero-emission nuclear energy must be a part of the solution along with other renewable forms of energy.
Economic freedom is by far the best response
As conservatives, playing defense has failed and will continue to fail
. The climate atheist argument that acknowledging the reality and risks of climate change makes one a socialist is a non-sequitur. It’s Salem Witch trial logic. Let’s dunk them in water and see if they float.
The only response that works is economic freedom. As we’ve documented, free economies are twice as clean as less free economies. Deregulation is an important first step, so we don’t delay the deployment of new, cleaner technologies. And we can invest in basic research and development and technologies like nuclear and carbon capture by recycling government waste. The climate debate and new pieces of evidence like extreme weather aren’t a problem for conservatives but an opportunity to advance scientific integrity and solutions that work.