Paul Krugman’s column on “Interests, Ideology and Climate” has been much debated, probably because it has a fairly controversial thesis: the opposition to climate policy is about conservative ideology, not vested interests. This goes against what most climate activists believe. If Krugman is right, all these campaigns against the fossil fuel industry are at best irrelevant.
There is no denying that the conservative side of the political spectrum has played a key role in undermining climate policy in the United States. However, we need to dig deeper than that to understand why conservatives are opposed to climate policy.
I don’t think there is anything intrinsic about conservative opposition to climate policy. A revenue-neutral carbon tax — create a carbon tax, reduce income taxes — would not change the size of the government.
Why would a conservative be opposed to such a policy? That’s where vested interests come into play. The energy sector — mostly oil, gas, and coal — is a major source of campaign funding in the United States. If a conservative politician wants to campaign against big government, the carbon tax is a perfect straw man because it brings in a lot of cash.
Conservative opposition to science also does not seem obvious or natural. If climate policy was not sold as a threat to the American way of life, conservatives would probably accept the science as it is. Historically, partisan polarization over climate science has been at much lower levels than it is today.
So, even if conservatives are opposed to climate science and policy, there is much more to the story. Vested interests have been successful in capturing the conservative movement and turning it against climate science and policy. It’s deeply troubling that disagreements about lifestyle and values spill over to an issue that should be everyone’s concern, and vested interests are to blame.