Barry Bickmore

Why is it that some political conservatives have been so obstinate in opposing any government action to address human-caused climate change? The answer is that they aren’t real conservatives. Real conservatives favor working toward a truly free and equitable society by intelligently considering our options and choosing those that will cause the least social upheaval and loss of individual freedom.

This minimalist approach to managing change stems from a healthy respect for “the Law of Unintended Consequences.” That is, whenever humans try to fix things, we always fail to account for all the consequences, which are often much worse than we expected. This is why conservatives, such as Edmund Burke, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Barry Goldwater, and Richard Nixon, have historically also been conservationists.

Nixon, who created the Environmental Protection Agency, put it this way, “We can no longer afford to consider air and water common property, free to be abused by anyone without regard to the consequences. Instead, we should begin now to treat them as scarce resources, which we are no more free to contaminate than we are free to throw garbage into our neighbor’s yard.”

True conservatives would never countenance reckless destruction of irreplaceable natural resources, leaving the mess for future generations, any more than we would want to leave an enormous monetary debt.

Unfortunately, the Conservative movement is in the process of being hijacked by radical libertarians, whose rigid ideology extends only to protecting personal liberties, rather than acknowledging our responsibilities. For instance, the vast majority of climate experts, as well as the National Academy of Sciences and every other major scientific organization with expertise in the area, say that human-caused climate change is likely to be a big enough problem to warrant strong action to cut greenhouse gas emissions. But the radicals dismiss all that in favor or conspiracy theories and pseudoscientific gibberish.

A recent op-ed by Pamela Openshaw (“Theory of Climate Change a Scare Tactic with Ulterior Motives,” Aug. 11) provides a good example. Her reasons for rejecting the overwhelming scientific consensus boil down to the following:

1. Some people want to use our response to global warming to promote a liberal social agenda.

2. We would need to wait hundreds of years to absolutely prove the theory of man-made global warming, so we can dismiss all the science done so far.

3. The Bible says climate-related disasters like floods and droughts have occurred naturally in the past, so humans obviously aren’t the cause.

Let’s consider these one at a time.

To support her assertion that climate change science is really a liberal ploy to “restrict our property use,” Ms. Openshaw quotes Christine Stewart, the former Canadian Minister of the Environment. “No matter if the science of global warming is all phony... climate change provides the greatest opportunity to bring about justice and equality in the world.” This quotation has been doctored to make it sound worse than it really is, but it is true that some people (including Stewart) want to use the public response to climate change to support a liberal social agenda.

But so what? If the West had been so delusional as to address the threat of Communism by pretending there was no such thing as the exploitation of the poor, rather than trying to promote different ways to address the problem, we would now be living under the oligarchs. Similarly, if conservatives want to remain a powerful political force, they should stop pretending human-caused climate change isn’t a problem, and start promoting solutions that are more compatible with conservative values.

The science backing the consensus is quite extensive, but the fact is that scientific projections of the future are always tentative and uncertain. Still, what is our alternative? Ms. Openshaw’s solution is to wait around until it’s too late to do anything about the problem if today’s science even turns out to be in the ballpark.

It’s clear that Ms. Openshaw doesn’t understand the science, in any case. We don’t need the Bible to tell us that climate change can happen naturally. Scientists have done an enormous amount of research reconstructing past climate conditions, and one clear conclusion has been that greenhouse gases (along with solar and volcanic activity) are some of the main controls on the climate. Scientific explanations of human-caused climate change merely posit that greenhouse gases do what they have always done, no matter how they are produced. Does the fact that forest fires can occur naturally mean that we shouldn’t take measures against human-caused forest fires? Humans are now emitting greenhouse gases the Earth stored over hundreds of millions of years in a matter of hundreds of years. Change is normal, but rapid change can cause all kinds of upheaval.

The radical libertarians’ knee-jerk rejection of the scientific consensus on climate change isn’t just anti-Conservative. It borders on sociopathy in its extreme anti-intellectualism and recklessness. And if we want to bring the Bible into it, why not consider this warning? “And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:18).

Barry Bickmore is professor of geological sciences at Brigham Young University, and a Republican county delegate. His views do not necessarily reflect official positions of his employer.