Realgroenpolitik

By Megan McArdle

In response to my argument that what Bush did didn't particularly matter, Matt rejoinders:

This is silly (about as silly as the view, sometimes expressed in comments, that I should avoid criticizing Megan when she writes things that are wrong on the theory that conservative views would somehow vanish if I ignored them) -- Clinton signed the treaty, knowing he couldn't get it ratified, and Bush un-signed it, knowing that there was no threat of ratification. Neither administration did what they did for no reason. Rather, they did it because of the impact on the political momentum, precisely the factor UN officials have cited to me as the relevant mechanism.

Meanwhile, let me also just say that I find there to be something incredibly wearing about this worldly-wise pose where one combines fatalism with nitpicking attacks on straw environmentalists instead of just forthrightly taking the view that the United States government ought to be indifferent to the problem of climate change. Maybe we'll do the right thing, and maybe we won't -- the future isn't written yet. One factor determining whether or not we do the right thing is whether or not right-of-center elites -- yes, including political bloggers at the Atlantic -- put emphasis on the idea that it's important for us to do the right thing.



One interpretation is that Clinton was robustly and forthrightly moving America down the road to doing something serious about climate change, and Bush shoved us off the track precisely because he doesn't want us to do anything about climate change. Another, which I find more convincing, is that Clinton signed Kyoto even knowing that it would go nowhere because he thought that this would win him cost-free points with environmentalist voters, while Bush loudly proclaimed that he wouldn't sign it in order to win cost-free points with a different set of voters.

The accusation that I am nitpicking and attacking my own side ties into a broader criticism I get from environmentalists, which is that any indication that I think the environmental movement has a less than perfect plan for combatting climate change is closely akin to class treachery.

Let's review the subjects of today's posts:

  1. Defending carbon taxes as preferable to cap and trade in the current political environment

  2. Advocating a modest unilateral approach as more fruitful than a more ambitious multilateral approach that seems politically certain to fail

  3. Debating whether we should enter into a global emissions control regime that does not include the developing world


I mean, these hardly seem like side points. They sort of seem like they're central to the policy debate. They may not produce the answer that Matt believes is true, and would certainly like to be true, which is that ambitious multilateral emissions trading regimes are well within reach. But that's not a good reason for me to suspend my beliefs about what is within the possible solution set.

I could be wrong about that; perhaps it's true that if I just keep telling everyone they've got this huge moral obligation that I believe in, they'll all wake up and decide I'm right. On the other hand, if I swing for the bleachers and miss, when I could have advanced a runner one base with a sac bunt, I'm not really doing the best thing for the team.

Perhaps Matt, and the other people thus criticizing me, are right, and I would do more good for the environmental movement by advocating Big Plans that have a high likelihood of failure, than advocating smaller projects with a decent chance of success. Perhaps we need extreme rhetoric and grand plans in order to secure an ultimate compromise on more modest measures. But if that's so, why not try to convince me, rather than angrily declaring that I'm out of bounds?

A lot of these attacks start to make me feel as if climate change policy ideas are supposed to be some sort of consumption good, where what really matters is how we all feel about our ideas.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2007/09/realgroenpolitik/1986/