THE BLOG
03/06/2007 02:00 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Jonah Goldberg is Scared

grist.org

Is there anything to be gained by wading into this article from Jonah Goldberg? The mere prospect leaves me fatigued.

The piece actually makes sense on its own pinched, cowardly terms. It proceeds from common conservative premises:

  • Economic development and environmental protection are a zero-sum game; add to one, you subtract from the other. In particular, global warming is the trade-off we make for our current prosperity.
  • Doing something about global warming = Kyoto.
  • Kyoto would be prohibitively expensive, and "thirty Kyotos" will be required to make any real dent in the problem.
  • Technology will save us:

    Technology 10 years from now could solve global warming at a fraction of today's costs. What technologies? I don't know. Maybe fusion. Maybe hydrogen. Maybe we'll harness the perpetual motion of Sen. Joe Biden's mouth.

Add it all up, and you've got the new conventional wisdom of the conservative commentariat on global warming: we can't do anything about it now, but we'll be able to magically lick it in 10 years, so let's just wait. Let's do nothing.

Thus has a movement that once promised us morning in America been reduced to timidity and defeatism. Thus has a profoundly entitled legacy hire in the Republican pundit class, like so many of his prep-school comrades, gotten it diametrically wrong on the two signal issues of our generation: the neoconservative military reshaping of the Middle East, and degradation of the planet's life-support systems. In both cases, their mistakes are driven by fear -- fear and its offspring: selfishness, paranoia, and myopia.

For the record, and briefly:

  • While environmental degradation frequently provides local, short-term environmental stimulus, those benefits pale before the collective long-term costs. In virtually every case, environmental health and remediation redound to the common good.
  • We did not simply adopt the cost of global warming in exchange for our wealth. We Westerners imposed the costs of global warming on the world, primarily parts of the world that have received little wealth in exchange. Though we face only a small fraction of the costs, we bear primary moral and economic responsibility for this externality of our extraordinary blessings.
  • The corporatist party has been screeching like Chicken Little at every proposed regulation for the last century; American entrepreneurial ingenuity always renders the doom-mongering moot. They really think the vaunted American economy could not adapt to Kyoto?
  • Kyoto isn't the point. It's what comes after Kyoto. It's what happens outside Kyoto. Kyoto-style international emissions trading is only one of literally hundreds of possible routes to reducing emissions.
  • Technology does not form like magic from the sub-Trekkie fantasies of doughy shut-ins like Goldberg. (Fusion and hydrogen?) It emerges from a long process of R&D, often funded in part by government, in markets that are not weighted and biased against it. Goldberg thinks putting a price on carbon would cripple the economy. But if carbon's externalities remain unpriced, what will spur the emergence of these faith-based techno-solutions?

Goldberg gets two things right: corn ethanol is largely a distraction, and China and India aren't inclined to cut their emissions. In both cases, what's desperately needed is strong, confident, clear-eyed American leadership. Can anyone who reads Goldberg imagine it's going to come from the right?

(The Editors are more brief.)