The New York Times editorial board recently complained that environmental regulations enacted during “the waning months of the Obama administration” face doom.
The Trump administration has “retreat[ed] from environmental sanity, using fantasy claims of job creation to cater to the Tea Party’s resentment of federal regulation,” the paper asserts. “One leader of this retreat will be the new boss of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general and aggressive skeptic of climate change who made his political career out of suing the agency he now leads.”
Conservatives seeking to return some resemblance of rationality to environmental regulations should take heed. The New York Times’ editorial is but a salvo in the upcoming fight. It provides a helpful guide to prepare for an onslaught of false narratives. Here are four time-worn smears we must continue to counter.
1. The Right Hates the Earth
For the last 30-plus years the Left has claimed the mantle of moral superiority and portrayed conservatives as motivated by bad intentions for the environment. Consider, for instance, comments by Delaware Sen. Thomas R. Carper, the ranking Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee: Trump “has made clear his goals to degrade and destroy the E.P.A.”
Unfortunately, conservatives have reinforced the liberals’ branding efforts by belittling environmental concerns as the province of tree-huggers and snail-darter lovers. In truth, though, conservatives share a desire to protect the environment. However, because they often find themselves on the defensive, conservatives often allow the contrary charge to go unanswered.
In filling this hole in their offense, the Right should also prepare for the predictable ridicule liberals dispense when the Right hoists the flag of environmental conservation. The New York Times also showcased this tactic: “Mr. Pruitt quickly riled critics by daring to quote John Muir, the patriarch of the environmental movement and founder of the Sierra Club: ‘Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in.’”
After years of portraying conservatives as evil destroyers of Mother Earth, liberals have come to believe their own propaganda. The left presents anyone who disagrees with its preferred policy agenda as opposing the cause du jour, whether that be the environment, health care, education, or equality. Conservatives need to say as much: We both believe in protecting the environment; we merely disagree on the best approach.
Also, does the Left deserve its holier-than-thou attitude? Remind them under whose watch the Environmental Protection Agency turned the Animas River orange by dumping more than 1 million gallons of wastewater from an abandoned mine.
2. Emotional Appeals to Puppies and Clean Water
The New York Times flanked its editorial hit piece with this beauty of a caption for an op-ed by columnist Gail Collins:
The emotive juxtaposition says it all: Regulatory reform equals puppy cruelty.
While Collins’ piece proves more substantive than the headline, she nonetheless reverts to the same soundbites and oversimplification the Left regularly presents for any regulatory reform. As the critics of environmental rationality gain steam, expect more focus on water.
Why? Because water provides both a visual and a personal impact. Consider the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan: Images of dirty water, young children and pregnant women, truckloads of bottled water, and print-outs of blood test results confirming elevated lead levels all made concrete the cost of the environmental disaster.
Public officials’ blatant disregard for the health and lives of Flint residents horrified everyone. Government should do few things, and assuring the safety of the public water supply is one of them. And this failure was epic. But the Left uses disasters such as in Flint, which occurred under the oversight of the previous administration, to push for unrelated environmental policies, and without regard of the unseen human cost. The cost from environmental failures bears a human face, whereas the harm overregulation causes usually remains invisible to the public eye.
The human cost of regulations is real, though. Experts “estimate that approximately every $7 million to $10 million of regulatory costs will induce one additional fatality,” through what is called the “income effect.”
Henry I. Miller explained this concept in “Will Regulators Continue to Get Away With Murder”: “To deprive communities of wealth via regulations that lead to inflated consumer prices, therefore, is to enhance their health risks, because wealthier individuals are able to purchase better health care, enjoy more nutritious diets, and lead generally less stressful lives. Conversely, the deprivation of income itself has adverse health effects — for example, an increased incidence of stress-related problems, including ulcers, hypertension, heart attacks, depression, and suicides.”
Conservative must highlight these invisible human costs.
3. Corporations Versus the Environment
Big Evil Corporations also make a nice bogey-man in debating environmental policy. This go-to foe again becamefodder recently when the attack on Pruitt began: “Within days of his swearing-in, demoralized E.P.A. workers were reminded of Mr. Pruitt’s close working ties to the fossil fuel industry as thousands of his emails were released showing his office dealing hand in glove with industry lobbyists.”
Unfortunately, conservatives have helped make this charge stick by focusing on jobs, costs, and the industries targeted by various regulations, whether oil and gas or coal and cars. Instead, conservatives should return again to first principles: The environment serves humans—today’s and tomorrow’s. Humans do not serve the environment, but are stewards of it. A corresponding corollary: Conservatives worship the Creator. Not the created. This belief informs conservatives’ views on environmental policy.
Unfortunately, conservatives often fail to make this point. Instead they speak of the economic cost of environmental regulations or the need to conduct a cost-benefit analysis. Such language creates the false impression that the Right cares more about money than about the environment. Not so. Economic costs harm humans. And economic analysis informs how to best protect the environment and provide for human needs. Conservative environmental policy has long recognized these truths. The Right must make sure their language matches its policy and conveys the same focus.
4. Conservatives Are Anti-Science
Ever since the Left transitioned from proclaiming the coming of the second ice age to predicting catastrophic global warming, “science” has been commandeered by liberal academia, politicians, and the media seeking to support their pet policies. By decreeing the science on this subject settled and enlisting the press to push this narrative, liberals have succeeded in portraying the Right as anti-science. But claims that science is settled are oxymoronic.
Conservatives must begin there: Anyone who claims the science is settled is not a scientist. As Charles Krauthammer succinctly wrote: “There is nothing more anti-scientific than the very idea that science is settled, static, impervious to challenge.”
Next, the Right must acknowledge the known and the unknown: Yes, scientific studies have shown an increase in global temperatures from 1970 until around the year 2000, but then for 15 years temperatures have remained stagnant. Some scientists have attempt to explain away this fact, while as the Washington Times recently reported, others have attempted to hide this inconvenient truth from the public’s view.
In an article on the Climate Etc. blog, John Bates, who retired last year as principal scientist of the National Climatic Data Center, accused the lead author of the 2015 NOAA ‘pausebuster’ report of trying to “discredit” the hiatus through ‘flagrant manipulation of scientific integrity guidelines and scientific publication standards.’
The “global warming” pause merely represents the latest in a long line of “scientific” models that have failed to predict the future. When confronted by claims of science, conservatives must be well-versed in the lack of scientific support for the left’s policies. The Federalist’s Robert Tracinski highlighted seven of environmentalists’ epic fails, and that is a good place to start.
Yet taking the climate industry on headlong will likely result in an ad hominem attack, with squeals of “denier” echoing loudly. Here, conservatives are best advised to model their response after Carly Fiorina. When asked whether she believes in global warming, Fiorina explained that, even accepting the various models, the fine print makes clear that regulations “will make no difference at all, and yet we’re destroying people’s lives and livelihoods.”
It’s well past the time for all conservatives to make this point—the true deniers are liberals. They are deniers of science, life, and livelihood.