A few weeks ago, a friend on facebook posted a link. He feels differently than I do about some aspects of climate change, and his post welcomed a debate. I would generally avoid this type of “opportunity”, but he made a good point in the ensuing comments: all of us have to get better at having conversations with people who think differently than we do. The post featured a link to this piece by Stephen Moore, who is currently being considered for a seat on the Board of the Federal Reserve. It’s easy to oppose Mr. Moore’s appointment because of his backers, his associations, and other published vile commentary. A handful of previous commenters voiced their disdain & disrespect for my friend, the link, and it’s author, but vitriol without logic simply rings hollow. It’s easy to settle into the shouting match, it’s more useful to oppose the ideas he represents, and to know specifically why. I wasn’t open to embracing the conclusions of the piece, but responding was a chance to explore the finer points of my disagreement. My reply was as follows:
“hey man, I read the article- and since you encouraged the discussion, my thoughts are too complicated to fit in a sound bite.
To me, it seems like the point you (not the article) are making is that if we can’t talk to people who think differently that we do, then we’ve lost the game completely. I couldn’t agree more. As one of the leftists that might otherwise might “shout you down”- I hope to avoid that here.
I respect you, and am only chiming in to learn how to have this conversation more constructively. I remain fervently committed to finding a way to mitigate (if not reverse) the impacts of climate change- and I’m not even sure you disagree with me on that. The point I think you and Mr. Moore are both trying to make is “we are spending a lot of money trying to solve a problem, and it seems like we aren’t getting anywhere. This seems fishy and we should pay attention to that.” I’m willing to consider this view, because I desperately want effective climate action. I do fervently disagree with his conclusion though: “we’ve spent a lot of money on this, I’ll take the risks of global warming over the crappy ROI.” I’m pretty sure that leads to more human suffering than Mr. Moore is willing to even consider.
Maybe we can agree on some common facts?
-I think you know a lot more than me about how money works.
-I’m pretty familiar with the energy engineering.
-I think we both care a lot about the beautiful birds you photograph, which are also impacted by climate change.
-We need realistic, market backed solutions that incentivize mitigating climate change impacts. Anything less will die on the vine.
So what do I think we are getting for the thing that Mr. Moore says has zero ROI?
1) I think humans are better off in a low carbon economy- fossil fuels are an inelegant solution to a bunch of engineering problems. Entirely aside from a “warmer climate” – dramatic reductions in fossil fuel use result in reduced impacts on human health, improved environmental health (also benefitting humanity), and are often more equitable (it’s cheaper and easier to put solar panels and a battery on a hut in Africa instead of building a power plant and stringing up thousands of miles of wire). Energy efficient buildings last longer and present better value to owners. Electric cars are safer, more efficient, and more fun to drive. The list goes on. To me, transitioning away from fossil fuels is still a really good idea even absent a positive impact on the climate.
2) Are we really sure we haven’t wasted this much money on other things? There is so much waste in our economy. Yeah, capitalism is way more efficient than communism or real deal socialism (not the watered down stuff that American democrats get accused of), but it’s still morbidly wasteful. Depending on who you read, we still provide deep subsides to the fossil fuel industry, and have been doing so for pretty much the last 100 years. Let’s try subsidizing something else for 100 years and see what happens? It sure seems like fossil fuels are a problem, so let’s at least see where trying to do something about it might land us.
3) If you (and Mr. Moore) aren’t necessarily saying the world isn’t warming, then perhaps you’ll allow this: I think global climate change is a probably a much bigger, much more complicated problem than we humans have ever tried to solve before. In many ways, it is the worst case problem for humans to solve- nebulous long term consequences, with painful short-term options that no one is sure will work. The planet itself and some animals will be just fine. Humanity, will certainly take quite the blow if not the knock-out punch. I won’t be surprised if it takes tens of trillions of dollars and many decades to solve. Looking at the energy science, solving climate change makes putting a man on the moon look like a pleasant Sunday drive.
4) You’re right to mention the other major structural issues that are preventing a more sane look at this issue. The national debt. Income inequality/stagnated wages. Money in politics. Maybe we should try to figure out some of these smaller issues before we try to tackle a bear like climate change.
As this is a conversation, I’d love to better understand a couple of the other good points you’ve made in the ensuing comments:
1) help me understand how, specifically in this instance, big money tends to encourage rent seeking? Which rents? Are these actually worse than current rents being soughtafter?
2) Why isn’t this America’s problem to solve? We’ve exercised great global leadership and technology development for a long time (re: the post WWII world order, developing everything from the internet to the microwave oven). Doing all of these other things is what made us the richest country in the world. We’ve been spending piles of money on long shot initiatives for a long time. Why not solve this?
Last fun fact- we’ve been getting better at *not* subsidizing (all sectors) of the energy markets as much:
Hopefully it doesn’t seem like I’m shouting- this is just how I think about it.”
Challenge yourself to think about the issues, don’t settle for a simple left/right divide. Don’t take the bait to the shouting match. Learn to have the conversation.