Responding to Shellenberger & Nordhaus on Climate:

On Monday, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, authors of Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, challenged conservatives on global warming in an essay on TNR Online. While some conservatives (including yours truly) have acknowledged the threat of climate change, Shellenberger and Nordhaus wrote, few (if any) had followed through with tangible proposals for meaningful action.

Newt Gingrich and Terry Maple, authors of the conservative environmental manifesto, A Contract with the Earth, responded on Tuesday, arguing for a market-based approach of sorts, based on "bold government incentives," to the threat of climate change. Shellenberger and Nordhaus were not convinced by the Gingrich-Maple argument, and suggested Gingrich and Maple are trying to address climate change "on the cheap," and that won't do.

I contributed to the exchange today, suggesting that Nordhaus and Shellenberger are too wedded to centralized, top-down strategies.

even though Shellenberger and Nordhaus recognize the difference between a politics of limits and one of possibility, they do not seem to comprehend the problems common to all centralized, top-down policy initiatives--regulatory and subsidy-driven alike. In their book and essays, Shellenberger and Nordhaus correctly observe that regulatory approaches to climate change are "economically insufficient to accelerate the transition to clean energy." Yet the "investment-centered" approach they prefer still suffers from substantial limits, not least their preference for a centrally directed system of subsidies. Rather than grapple with the limits of top-down direction of investment and economic activity, they present a false dichotomy between laissez faire absolutism and government direction of investments. . . .

There is certainly a need for conservatives and others to "back up words with action," but not just any action will do. We need innovation-spurring, forward-looking environmental policies, not a repackaging of the centralized mandates and economic controls that have dominated environmental policy for the past three decades. Shellenberger and Nordhaus have helped to initiate this dialogue, but their policy recommendations should not be the last word.

The essay fleshes out some of what I have in mind in greater detail.

My prior posts on Nordhaus and Shellenberger, and their provocative book, are here and here. Meanwhile, while we're on the subject of conservatives and climate change, David Roberts rounds up the latest comments from the GOP presidential candidates on global warming policy.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Nordhaus & Shellenberger on Break Through - Event & Webcast:
  2. Responding to Shellenberger & Nordhaus on Climate: