America’s climate policy to date has been a failure, and a costly one. The way it is now unfolding it runs a large chance of incurring high costs, and only a very small chance of benefiting the American people. Environmentalists have failed to provide an effective response to the challenges posed by climate change. Instead they have focused on an expensive and ultimately futile strategy of unilateral greenhouse gas restrictions. Conservatives, meanwhile, rather than developing a constructive response to climate change have chosen largely to ignore it or to obfuscate climate science.
The United States needs a new vision of climate policy that deals soberly with both scientific and political realities. Although the environmental movement has arguably done the world a great service in popularizing scientific findings about climate change, its climate policy response is quixotic. Where innovation should be prized, it endorses the precautionary principle. Where careful weighing of outcomes and risks is called for, it scorns the use of cost-benefit analysis. Despite high uncertainty about how climate change will affect the United States, most environmental groups are trying to narrow our range of options to a strategy that amounts to stringent energy austerity. Faced with a problem that demands great suppleness, their main response is to engorge the administrative state.
The conservative and business groups that have borne the brunt of opposing these policies have probably saved the country large sums of money that would otherwise have been squandered on ill-advised abatement schemes. But, with some notable exceptions, they have badly muddled the scientific issues, and they may have harmed the conservative brand, losing well-informed voters who would otherwise be sympathetic to the right. By dogmatically asserting that no serious threat is on the horizon, too many conservatives have removed themselves from the debate about how to hedge our bets sensibly by finding ways of reducing the risks climate change poses while minimizing the economic impact….