Friday, February 23, 2007

Gov. Sanford Supports Action on Climate Change

This is unexpected. I've blogged about some outrageously dumb things that SC governor Mark Sanford has said over the past year, but this just goes to show that you can't judge a book by its cover. Or by its first 200 pages.

Sanford has written an opinion piece in today's Washington Post titled, A Conservative Conservationist? The subtitle is, "Why the Right Needs to Get Invested in the Search for Climate Change Solutions". Whoa.

For the past 20 years, I have seen the ever-so-gradual effects of rising sea levels at our farm on the South Carolina coast. I've had to watch once-thriving pine trees die in that fragile zone between uplands and salt marshes. I know the climate change debate isn't over, but I believe human activity is having a measurable effect on the environment.

The real "inconvenient truth" about climate change is that some people are losing their rights and freedoms because of the actions of others -- in either the quality of the air they breathe, the geography they hold dear, the insurance costs they bear or the future environment of the children they love.

Sanford is kind of a self-styled libertarian, and libertarians have been the biggest culprits when it comes to distorting climate science for ideological ends. They're so rigidly opposed to any possibility of government regulation that they've chosen instead to deny that the problem even exists, and in some of the more absurd cases, intimate the existence of a dark conspiracy in which scientists and governments are trying to use the "global warming scare" to advance one-world socialism. (Yet oddly enough, the one socialist country of any consequence left in the world, China, is taking a skeptical point of view on climate change.)

But I've always maintained that a true libertarian point of view -- one which consistently holds that people should be free from the negative actions of others, rather than being reflexively pro-business -- would agree with Sanford's last sentence above. When someone imposes costs on you against your will -- and that's basically what pollution in all its forms does -- then they're violating your rights. The standard libertarian response to this is that polluters should be sued for damages (anything other than government regulation) in order for victims to recoup their losses, which would supposedly be enough to dissuade polluters. But aside from being unworkable, this model violates freedom of choice. If someone can expose me to pollutants against my will, it doesn't set things right if they merely pay for the damage they cause. They've effectively forced me to sell my person or my property against my will.

Aside from that, Sanford makes some other good points. He also makes some silly ones. He seems to be of the opinion that banning incandescent light bulbs, which was recently proposed by a California lawmaker, is apparently a solution of the "far left". He must not know that the entire country of Australia, run by a right-wing PM with a history of global warming skepticism, has recently proposed to do the same thing. And Sanford is still caught up with that libertarian delusion that regulation is always a bad thing. So he names it something else:

Third, conservatives must respond to climate change with innovation, not regulation. This means encouraging private research and implementation of more eco-friendly construction, more energy-efficient workplaces and more sustainable ways of going about life -- all of which cuts costs and protects God's creation.

There's not much difference between "encouraging" something and regulating it. The way you encourage things, at least if you're doing something meaningful and not just spouting platitudes, is to tax bad behavior and subsidize good behavior. It's not direct regulation, but it's still the government meddling in the economy. The difference between me and Sanford, presumably, is that he has an ideological objection to such meddling. I, on the other hand, don't think we have any choice.

Still, at least Sanford accepts the reality of climate change and, more importantly, the need to address the problem. And I don't think anyone could reasonably accuse him of wanting to institute a one-world socialist government either.