By John Norquist
It’s tough being a Global Warming skeptic today.
To conservatives, this news bias must seem awfully unfair or even
conspiratorial, especially with federal power now firmly in the hands
of Democrats. Yet I argue that those of you that hold sincere doubts
about global climate change have assisted in bringing the media
criticism on yourselves. Your mistake was to assume energy conservation
comes only at a cost to the economy when actually the history of
economic growth is more the opposite.
Increases in productivity, whether derived from labor saving or
energy saving, can add value to the economy. Reducing energy per unit
of production need not hurt the economy. By failing to recognize this
point, conservatives undermine their own credibility.
Skeptics certainly should question the group-think that has promoted
global warming theory to its “settled” status. Yes, skeptics also
should raise the alarm at some of the remedies proposed to reduce CO2
emissions – but not all of them.
Government subsidies that aim to turn more U.S. farmland to
production of corn destined for conversion to ethanol are absurd and
bad for the economy. Ethanol subsidies raise food costs and divert
capital from investments which would add value to the economy. Ethanol
producers such as Archers Daniels Midland claim to be saving the world,
but we all know that they are using their political access to force
consumers to buy their product.
Follow up: Others driven by genuine idealism may push government interventions that also prove counterproductive.
But there are some sensible ideas to reduce energy consumption that
should be embraced without much controversy. For example, improved
insulation at power plants helps produce more energy with less fuel.
Using low-energy appliances and light bulbs also can reduce energy
consumption per unit of production. Building communities in a more
compact way, which often is prohibited today by restrictive zoning
laws, would also yield energy savings.
My organization, the Congress for the New Urbanism, is made up of
about 3000 architects, engineers, planners and developers. CNU was
formed in 1993 to confront the modernist-influenced government
juggernaut that promoted excessive road building and separate-use
zoning. After seeing the negative effects of federal urban renewal
programs and the Interstate Highway Act on cities, we share the
skepticism that many conservatives feel for large government programs.
The current focus on climate change deserves more thoughtful
discussion, with careful review of ideas that are offered as remedies.
When these ideas would cost the economy value it’s important to
challenge them. When energy conservation strategies reduce cost and
increase productivity, conservatives and everyone else should consider
The national and international dialogue about climate change is
polarized. That is not necessarily bad as the issue is serious enough
to justify strong emotions on all sides of the debate. However, an
occasional search for common ground can sometimes actually sharpen
thinking and produce sound public policy.
Is it a good idea to obsess on global warming as a threat to human
life on earth? I don’t know, but as a supporter of free-market
capitalism I do know that if we can produce the same or more wealth
with less energy, we should do it. And if that also helps the
environment, what’s the problem?
John Norquist lives in Chicago and serves as President of the
Congress for the New Urbanism. He previously served as Mayor of
Milwaukee from 1988 to 2004. He can be reached at email@example.com