ENERGY….Ross Douthat on John McCain’s energy/climate change policy:

McCain’s embrace of cap-and-trade didn’t happen in a vacuum: It was an attempt, albeit a misguided one, to break with the heads-in-the-sand approach to energy and climate change that far too many conservatives have been taking for far too long. And the right-wing zeal for drilling in ANWR has been part of the problem, not part of the solution: It’s licensed conservatives to posture about energy independence while sidestepping the global-warming debate entirely. If the argument for drilling in ANWR were embedded in a broader Jim Manzi-meets-Shellenberger-and-Nordhaus approach to the dual imperatives of cheaper and cleaner energy, then I’d be all for it. But for the most part, that isn’t how it’s being framed. It’s just “drill here, drill now, pay less,” full stop. Which is bad policy and bad politics.

ANWR’s weird totemic quality has always baffled me. As near as I can tell, the environmental damage from drilling in the tiny portion of ANWR at issue would be pretty modest. At the same time, taken on a global scale, the amount of oil there is small potatoes. Basically, it just doesn’t matter all that much. So why the 30-year blood feud?

Partly, I suppose, because it has become a totemic issue. Liberals don’t really like to address energy supply issues and conservatives don’t like to address either efficiency or conservation issues, so instead they just posture endlessly over ANWR and call it a day.

Personally, I’d look at ANWR as a bargaining chip. I don’t have much interest in drilling there, but I’d be willing to trade it away if Republicans were willing to support a serious climate policy in return. This means cap-and-trade (or a carbon tax) in order to price the externalities of carbon properly; it means serious research into clean energy technologies (and, yes, regulation of dirty technology); and it means real efforts to spur greater energy efficiency. John McCain has made only a few small nods in these directions so far, but at least he acknowledges that we’re dealing with a real problem here, not a phony conspiracy cooked up by a sinister cabal of liberals, Hollywood stars, and climate scientists. Even if it accomplishes nothing else, his candidacy will represent a major step forward if it merely makes it acceptable in Republican circles to admit that climate change is a genuine issue and that our energy problems won’t be solved solely by drilling test wells everywhere on the planet.

Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation