Monday, October 22, 2012

Environmental policies that work (revisited) – Air pollution in the US, 1980 vs. 2008

This might not be a bad moment to revisit the post below, from April 2010. To repeat what I said then: "It's sometimes necessary to remind ourselves that sensible policies in the service of environmental sanity can work, if we make a serious effort." (Anyone who's interested might also want to revisit Environmental policies that work - Reducing air pollution in Mexico City. If it can be done there, it can be done anywhere.)

One aspect of recent American politics helps make revisiting this item especially timely. Historically, as I noted back in 2010, the Republican Party was not always or uniformly identified with opposition to environmentalist policies. Over the past several decades, however, across-the-board anti-environmentalism has increasingly become a central defining feature of Republican orthodoxy, especially though not exclusively on the Republican hard right—which, of course, has increasingly come to dominate the party and set its agenda. This ongoing process has only intensified in recent years; and nowadays, with just a few exceptions, reflex hostility to any and all forms of environmental sanity has become pervasive and obligatory.  ("Drill, Baby, Drill!")

To take one obvious example, a decade ago the problem of long-term climate change could be taken seriously by prominent Republicans like John McCain and, believe it or not, Newt Gingrich. (OK, in 2003 McCain was still in his "maverick" phase. But even his 2008 campaign platform included a cap-and-trade policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.) Now, however, Republican orthodoxy includes a monolithic, extreme, and almost quasi-theological commitment to climate-change denialism.

I know some serous and intelligent people who think it is unfair and even offensive to use the word "denialism" in this context, but I use it advisedly. Yes, I recognize that there are some thoughtful and reasonable forms of skepticism about climate change and its implications, whether or not one finds them convincing. But the perspective on climate change that now dominates the national Republican Party and the right-wing propaganda apparatus, running from talk radio and Fox News through right-wing think-tanks and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, goes way beyond that. (For one good illustrative example of how honest and intellectually serious climate-change skepticism might differ from intellectually irresponsible and crudely demagogic climate-change denialism, I recommend this piece by a skeptical conservative analyst of climate change and its implications, Jim Manzi.) And monolithic climate-change denialism is just one manifestation of a more general pattern.

Attacks on laws or regulations aimed at protecting or improving the environment often claim or imply or insinuate that such policies don't really work—or, at least, that their costs and other drawbacks always outweigh their benefits. Well, that's wrong.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

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Environmental policies that work - Air pollution in the US, 1980 vs. 2008

(Via Brad DeLong.) It's sometimes necessary to remind ourselves that sensible policies in the service of environmental sanity can work, if we make a serious effort.

At first glance, I also can't help being struck by the fact that the downward trends in these forms of air pollution carried on through several anti-environmentalist Republican presidential administrations--beginning with Reagan in 1980. Back in 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was created with the support of then-President Richard Nixon, and of course one of the founding fathers of the environmental cause in US national politics was the conservative reformer Teddy Roosevelt. Historically, the Republican Party was not always or uniformly identified with opposition to environmentalist policies. Since the commencement of the age of Reagan, that has changed. But once these policies are set in motion, they seem to develop their own momentum.

—Jeff Weintraub

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