1. Conservatives are definitely not going away in the short-term—they are likely to pick up seats this coming November—and they are almost certainly not going away in the long-term either.
2. Right now most conservatives don’t much care about climate change, but some of them do care. These include local folks like Todd Myers and national folks like Greg Mankiw, David Frum, and many more.
3. The number of climate-conscious conservatives is likely to grow. Some conservatives are undoubtedly creationist-minded lost causes (just like some progressives are Marxist-minded lost causes :), but there are plenty who just have an extra-healthy dose of skepticism; if IPCC predictions continue to be validated by reality, that skepticism will wane over the course of this decade. [Update 2016: The “reality” link to NASA’s temperature graph should now go here.]
4. The environmental community should do everything in its power to boost the ranks of climate-conscious conservatives. This is because being a one-party issue is not a good way to make change happen (see gay rights, the religious right, etc.) and because conservatives are not going away (see #1 above). A year ago climate blogger Joseph Romm wrote that “the country can only contemplate serious environmental legislation when we have the unique constellation of a Democratic president and [large] Democratic majorities in both houses, an occurrence far rarer than a total eclipse of the sun.” Yesterday Romm wrote that “it’s clear we’re not going to get an economy-wide cap and trade bill.” Maintaining this state of affairs is bad bad bad, and although it may be a while until climate-conscious conservatives become a significant force it is entirely possible that serious climate legislation (like BC’s carbon tax) will have to wait until it does.
5. The best way to boost the ranks of climate-conscious conservatives is to take conservative concerns and preferences seriously. This includes the concerns and preferences of the relatively small group of already-green conservatives, but also those of potential converts.
6. Many of those concerns are about the growth of government, and many of those preferences are for revenue-neutral carbon taxes. In fact, some Republicans feel so strongly about public finance issues that they support revenue-neutral carbon taxes even though they don’t care about climate change. (George Will came to one of my classes this last year, and after explaining why he thought global warming was a hoax he told us that he hated the payroll tax and therefore he supported replacing the payroll tax with a carbon tax, or indeed with a “yogurt tax”; I asked him if he knew that Al Gore agreed with him and he said that an idea should not be held responsible for the people who believe in it 🙂
7. These conservative concerns and preferences are different from progressive concerns and preferences. In the unlikely event that you’d like proof, consider that Todd Myers of the free-market Washington Policy Center says that the Washington State Democrats refused to allow them to submit (and pay for!) this ad in their convention newsletter.
8. In order to take conservative concerns and preferences seriously, the environmental community needs to differentiate itself from the progressive community.
9. This is difficult because many environmentalists are also progressives. Concern about climate change is not just an excuse for expanding government, but there’s a good reason conservatives worry that it is.
10. The way forward is for the environmental community to reach out to conservatives. Yes there is mutual mistrust, but the onus is on the environmental community because enviros needs conservatives more than conservatives need enviros. Yes these efforts might not yield dividends for 5-10 years, but the time to start is now. Yes it is distressingly possible that revenue-neutral tax shifts will not poll well right now (among conservatives or among progressives!), but exploring those options is a way to demonstrate goodwill and to show that the environmental community is taking conservative concerns and preferences seriously.
The bottom line is that there is a huge difference between (1) trying to find common ground and failing, and (2) moving in other directions without even looking for common ground. Failing to look for common ground will simply lead to more mutual hostility and delay the growth of climate-conscious conservatism. In contrast, looking for common ground and failing will allow environmentalists to honestly and respectfully engage with conservatives (“we tried finding common ground, but the polling came back negative, and that’s why we’re pushing progressive ideas xyz that you don’t like”) and both groups will be better positioned to try again down the road. And of course there’s always a chance—somehow, someday… maybe even today!—that (3) trying to find common ground will succeed.