Taxonomy of Conservative Denialism and Excuse-Making on Climate Change

Not all conservatives are climate-change denialists, even if they are in league with them. But for purposes of clarity, it’s helpful to keep their excuses for rejecting action on climiate change straight. So at Grist Ben Adler has performed an important public service by writing a taxonomy of these people and what they are saying.

Noting that straightforward conservative supporters of carbon taxation are mostly found in the ranks of people who have no real political influence (even if they once did), Adler offers three groups of thinkers and gabbers who are influential:

The Adapters: This group includes sharp, usually younger, wonks, sometimes called “reformicons,” and some emissaries from the big-business establishment wing of the GOP. They basically accept climate science — although many play up the uncertainty of future projections — but they argue that capping or taxing emissions is too costly. Instead, they say we should grow the economy as much as possible so that we’ll have plenty of dough to adapt to climate change, and, some suggest, to offer gigantic rewards to scientists who can invent their way to a climate solution.

In this group Adler includes Jim Manzi, Ramesh Ponnuru, Reihan Salam, Ross Douthat and Lee Lane.

The Handwringers: These are the nice-guy conservatives who accept the science and agree that taxing or capping carbon emissions would be the optimal policy. But rather than blaming their own side for doing everything it can to block carbon regulation, they blame Democrats for crafting imperfect policies or politicizing the issue, or, if they’re feeling magnanimous, they cast a pox on both houses, or the system of representative democracy itself.

Greg Mankiw, Michael Gerson, David Brooks, and Eli Lehrer fall into this category.

And then there are the more familiar Bad Guys:

The Deans of Denialism: These are the pompous old white guys who are admired by rank-and-file conservatives because their ostentatious displays of erudition make them seem smart — even if what they are saying makes no sense. And it definitely makes no sense when it comes to climate change, on which they do not accept the scientific consensus. They are particularly fond of claiming that there hasn’t been any global warming since 1998, a factoid that has been repeatedly debunked.

This, predictably, is the longest list with the most famous names: George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Fred Barnes, Paul Gigot, Benjamin Zycher, and Rupert Darwell. They have a lot to account for, including the reluctance of the other groups to speak in more than furtive whispers and evasions.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.