By John Norquist
It’s tough being a Global Warming skeptic today.
Al Gore gets the Nobel Prize while the national media often lump global warming skeptics with Flat Earth Society members and Holocaust deniers.
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 embracing them.
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 protected]
By John Norquist