Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How not to defend GOP environmental policies

I came across this Jonah Goldberg column "Obama's Keystone Pipeline Trap" via Kevin Drum. Before going on, let me point out that I am not convinced there's a compelling environmental case for stopping the Keystone pipeline; rather, it seems to me that environmental groups engage in symbolic politics by making this pipeline a target and a proxy for climate change. And on fracking, I incline to the view that, with proper regulation, natural gas can provide environmental and economic benefits.

Still, similar to Drum, I am unfavorably struck by Goldberg's line: "Contrary to what you may have heard, GOP politicians still care about the environment, but they take their cues from public opinion, not from the green lobby." Better, by far, to take your cues from science and cost-benefit analysis. By the way, hasn't going against public opinion once in a while (even standing athwart history yelling Stop, when no one is inclined to do so) been a conservative thing in the past?

And then there's this from Goldberg:
Important work is being done on serious problems, such as ocean acidification, overfishing, elephant and rhino poaching and loss of habitat. None of these issues get a fraction of the coverage they deserve. That's because many environmental reporters think their beat begins and ends with climate change.
Me: I've made a case that Republicans should devote more effort to protecting rhinos, and I think Goldberg is right that those are all serious issues. But if he's implying that the GOP is currently doing a lot of the "important work" on them, I'd like to see the basis for that claim. Moreover, in pressing for a focus on "loss of habitat" (presumably he means of numerous species, not just the elephants and rhinos) Goldberg is raising an issue that is exacerbated by climate change, and in bringing up "ocean acidification" he is raising an issue that is intimately connected to climate change (and indeed often presented as a subset of climate change problems).

Goldberg's column is one of those arguments that's really a gift to those on the other side. Expect green groups to cite it in their fundraising letters.

UPDATE 4/25: Some others have criticisms, overlapping with mine, of Goldberg's column. See: "The Goldberg Variations," by D.R. Tucker, and "Conservative Pundit Jonah Goldberg Calls For More Attention To Ocean Acidification," by Shauna Theel.

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