Climate change is a conservative issue

Conservatively speaking, we are not doing enough to tackle climate change.

The White House estimates that the $386 billion in incentives for low-carbon technologies in the Inflation Reduction Act will reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions about 40 percent from 2005 levels in 2030. Conservatives, like me, they think US emissions were already trending down, probably 24-32% without the Inflation Reduction Act, which means we will borrow and spend $386 billion to reduce US emissions by 8 -16%. (I’m also painfully aware that Republican politicians stood on the sidelines during these political negotiations.)

Globally, climate change will get worse. All economies, regardless of their climate policies, will continue to emit greenhouse gas emissions and, therefore, the global average temperature will continue to increase.

World leaders and environmentalists alike were right in Sharm El Sheikh lamenting this reality during the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Just like previous conferences, they have also touted progress despite the United Nations’ recent assessment that countries’ pledges to fight climate change are failing. Sadly, as we are beginning to experience the damaging impacts of climate change, the worst consequences will fall on future generations.

So, we can’t let applause for incremental efforts, like the Inflation Reduction Act, drown out persistent warnings from scientists that the seas are still rising.

Canny conservatism requires being prepared for the future. Currently, our future is an average global temperature rise of 6.4 degrees Fahrenheit and sea level rise of 30 inches by 2100. Some will argue that these are just estimates, but that’s no excuse to ignore them. To a true conservative, those estimates are the baseline that should guide our preparation — we might even want to plan for a slightly worse-case scenario, just in case.

Of course, we can change the baseline by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (After all, conservatives are not fatalists.) But that will require more effective policies than $386 billion in subsidies. And the effort must be global, not isolationist. Instead, we should channel Margaret Thatcher, who called for nations to tackle climate change and for “worldwide agreements on ways to cope with the effects of climate change.” You would probably agree that subsidies and voluntary commitments under the Paris Agreement are not adequate, that we need prudent solutions such as a carbon price and binding global commitments.

We must also consider that coasts, people (sometimes in the millions) and markets will move. For too many decades, conservatism has continued to preserve the status quo: resisting government action, resisting rising flood insurance rates to protect policyholders from change and rising costs, and more recently withdrawing funds by institutions that consider climate change as they make investment decisions.

The politics of climate change has stimulated such a backward approach. But it’s time to look ahead, especially now that Republicans have regained a leadership role in Congress. Of course, it wasn’t the so-called “red wave” pollsters predicted for the midterm elections. But conservatives have an opportunity – an obligation, indeed, for future generations – to advocate for climate policies that meaningfully address the problem. Such policies must reduce emissions, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, sea level rise and global temperature.

Despite the displaced and hidden costs of the Inflation Reduction Act, the actual costs will inevitably be incurred. Conservatives need to focus on reducing those costs, design climate policies that prepare for the physical impact of climate change, pursue strong global agreements to reduce emissions, embrace carbon-pricing economics, and reduce unnecessary subsidies.

Today, politicians on both sides might consider those policies politically impossible. But scientists and economists probably consider them responsible, equally conservative.

Alex Flint is the executive director of the Alliance for Market Solutions and former personnel director of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

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