Last night I moderated a panel at SPU with UW climate scientist Mike Wallace, Washington Policy Center environment director Todd Myers, and Bob Inglis, formerly R-SC and now with the Energy & Enterprise Initiative. (More on all these folks at the E&EI website.) The panelists each made a 10-minute opening statement, followed by Q&A with yours truly and the audience.

Some thoughts, with the caveat that these are my recollections and not direct quotes from the participants:

  1. Mike Wallace’s opening statement made three main points: (1) global warming is real; (2) most of the serious impacts are decades in the future; (3) global warming is only one challenge that will face humanity at the end of this century; food production seemed to be a particular concern to Mike given unsustainable groundwater withdrawals, projected growth in human populations to 9-11 billion, etc.
  2. Bob Inglis emphasized his conservative credentials and the idea that a revenue-neutral tax swap has support from other impeccably conservative folks like Art Laffer. It was easy to see that Bob had been in politics, just like it was easy to see that Mike was a scientist, in part because of their presentation styles: Bob was polished and at ease ad-libbing, while Mike read from a prepared statement and the mic had trouble picking up his voice. A somewhat deeper observation is that Bob clearly spent a good deal of time thinking about language, e.g., arguing for “tax swap” instead of “carbon tax” because it has a greater chance of resonating with conservatives who break out in hives at “carbon” and go into shock at “tax”. He also emphasized repeated in his comments the hidden health costs associated with fossil fuel consumption, citing a study claiming 23,600 premature deaths from coal power plants; I believe that at least once he even referred to this as a “health tax”.
  3. Todd Myers argued that markets are better than political systems at dealing with environmental problems and picking winning technologies. He noted that environmentalists often argue for lifestyle changes (e.g., driving less) but that people like to live the way that the like to live and so technological progress (e.g., more fuel-efficient cars) are a more likely path to success in dealing with climate change. Like Bob Inglis he didn’t have kind words for the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill. (Inglis voted against it.) Todd also argued that it was a good thing that climate change didn’t come up in the presidential debate because it would just lead to even more politicization and polarization.
  4. Mike noted that Hurricane Sandy was only modestly connected to climate change, in that (1) it probably had a little more energy because of increased ocean temperatures and (2) the storm surge came on top of something like 8 inches of climate-change-related sea level rise over the past 150 years or so.
  5. Bob noted that conservative principles argued not just for internalizing externalities but also for getting rid of energy subsidies across the board: no more Solyndras, no more accelerated depreciation for oil and gas leasing rigs.
  6. Both Bob and Todd pushed back against a question suggesting that conservatives weren’t worried about regressivity. They both seemed somewhat open to the “dividend” idea of using carbon tax revenues to provide a per-capita check to every American (in the same way that the Alaska Permanent Fund provides oil dividends to Alaskans).
  7. There was I think a general sense that recent talk about carbon taxes at the federal level was premature and that this would be a long hard slog. Bob highlighted the fact that ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson supports carbon taxes, as does the head of mining giant BHP Billiton. (BHP also has investments in uranium that could become more valuable in a carbon constrained world, and Bob argued that BHP sees coal as ultimately unattractive because the Chinese will develop concerns about local air pollutants and perhaps climate change as well.)