Saturday, December 10, 2016

A Conservative Approach to Climate Change

I think a big reason why conservatives ignore climate change is that the solutions usually proposed are very stereotypically liberal. Most are some variety of "Hey, let's all do our part to cut our energy usage!" The conservative's knee-jerk reaction to that is "Great! You guys have fun with that, and don't forget to join hands and sing kum-bay-ah when you're done."

Very important rule: if a proposed solution requires getting everyone together to pitch in, then conservatives probably aren't going to like it. Too much signalling, too small likelihood of success. Conservative solutions are all about making the solution happen, on time and on budget, whether anyone likes it or not.

Let's try to get into the mindset of a hypothetical conservative serious about climate change. Imagine that climate change were a very clear, immediate life-or-death threat, not just to cute coral species but to humans. Let's say that for some weird reason, once atmospheric CO2 crosses 500 ppm, major cities start blowing up at random intervals. What would be the conservative reaction?

Probably something like this:
1. Immediate shutdown of the power grid. A few areas with carbon-free power sources would be left online, mostly around the large damns in Washington and the southwest, and around nuclear plants. Areas with large solar and wind supply would be brought back online only when sufficient power was available, and alert systems would quickly be put in place to let people know when that was.
2. Fuel rationing. Mostly farming and shipping would receive priority. Need to keep people fed.
3. Demands for fuel rationing and grid shutdown in other countries, backed by threat of war.
4. A Manhattan project around geoengineering. If dumping iron in the ocean to produce an algae bloom can cut CO2, then we do that. Red tide? Worry about it after the CO2 drops.
5. Massive ramp-up in nuclear power construction. This would actually be very fast if the president declared a national emergency and completely overrode the usual zoning laws and approval processes. Mobile nuclear plants modeled after those used by the navy would likely come online first.

That's what a climate change strategy looks like when you stop fucking around.

Today, the threat is not nearly that immediate. 1-3 don't make sense without a very immediate threat. 4 does make sense, but it may or may not produce results. But 5? Nuclear power is what happens when you stop fucking around on climate change.

"But what about all that radioactive waste?" whine the liberals. "And those poor natives by the Cheyenne mountains? And those giant strip mines where the uranium comes from?"

Let's go back to the exploding cities scenario. That's a world where CO2 is a real threat to human survival. Let's even say that it requires 700 ppm CO2, to dampen the immediacy. So it's a few years out, but New York City is going to go boom. In that world, you shut up about the damn strip mines, and you build the damn reactors. Because when something is a real threat to human survival, nothing else is relevant. Nothing. Conservatives get this on a deep instinctive level. Liberals do not.

"But it's a few years out! As long as we've got the time, why not cut our energy use and build clean solar rather than dirty nuclear?" Does that sound like the strategy of someone who's worried about survival on a gut level? It's a lot like saying "Ok, the locusts are wiping out the crop. How about we cut back our food consumption by all going vegetarian? Then we can go organic, rather than using pesticides!" Conservative reaction: have fun with that. When the locusts swarm, we're calling Monsanto. If carbon's a real threat, we're going nuclear. Don't like nuclear waste? Fine. Worry about shifting to other power sources after the carbon threat is dealt with.

Look, solar panels and windmills and saving the rainforest are great for making people feel warm and fuzzy. But if you want to cut carbon, quickly and efficiently and economically and practically, then nuclear power and maybe geoengineering are the way to go. The root of the disagreement on climate change isn't whether or not it's happening. The root of the disagreement is that conservatives are big fans of efficiency and economy, and are definitely not happy with solutions which trade off efficiency and economy for warm fuzzies.

Conservatives see liberals suggesting warm fuzzy solutions to climate change, and assume that this whole climate change thing is just a made-up excuse for the warm fuzzies. After all, if it we actually feared for our lives from CO2, we'd be advocating nuclear power and geoengineering.

So I'll wrap it up with this: liberals, if you want to convince conservatives to support climate change action, then tell them that you want to fast-track nuclear power plant construction. See how they feel about that.

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