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“How is That Conservative?” Former Climate Denier now Backs Action

Posted on 21 February 2018 by greenman3610

This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections

Climate change policy analyst* Jerry Taylor spent more than 25 years earning his well-deserved reputation as the skunk at the picnic of American climate scientists.

Taylor – the focus of this month’s “This is Not Cool” video – cut his teeth as an energy and environment savant with the very conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), where he worked from 1988 to 1991. Then, from 1991 to 2014, he was with the free-market Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., where he eventually became a vice president. Through many of those years, Taylor was a frequent spokesperson for those scientists who regularly challenged whether climate change is real, human-caused, or, in either event, worth worrying about or doing anything to address.

A frequent commentator and analyst on those media outlets on the right politically – think Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Regulation magazine – Taylor earned the respect of those generally regarded as “skeptics.” He now has come to call some of those Fox News hosts who had given him so much precious air time “howler monkeys,” just one example of his facile way with words that makes him so quotable and so sought-after by many in the news media.

But along with the preening admiration bestowed on Taylor from many of those most stridently rejecting climate science or any effort to manage climate risks, he also won the very begrudging respect of those mainstream climate scientists and policy advocates who, while admiring his communications savvy and stage presence, trashed what they dismissed as his pseudo-science proclamations.

The 'before-and-after' of a once-prominent climate contrarian ... now a strong voice for action.CLICK TO TWEET

Those scientists readily identified with organizations such as the IPCC, the National Academy of Science, and NASA and NOAA had a shared viewpoint: Not only did they think Taylor was simply “drinking the Kool Aid” prepared and fed to him by fossil fuel-funded interests, but they also recognized that he was effective – that is very good. Very good, they would say, at doing very bad things in terms of undercutting public understanding of what many see as an existential threat to modern society and the global economy. And very good at having contributed to the polarized impasse that continues to shroud the climate change issue, particularly on Capitol Hill.

Jerry Taylor:  Version #1 vs. Version #2

But that was Jerry Taylor, Version #1. That is the Jerry Taylor who from 2000 through 2009 was spending lots of his free time designing wargames for computer gaming enthusiasts.

Then came Jerry Taylor, Version #2. That’s the Jerry Taylor who – after doing what he describes as his own “due diligence” – has come to fully accept and endorse the peer-reviewed scientific evidence on human-caused climate change that Earth’s atmosphere has warmed over the past half-century-plus primarily as a result of human emissions of greenhouse gases, specifically including carbon dioxide.

Jerry Taylor Version #2 goes further. Having studied under-graduate political science at the University of Iowa, but without graduating, Version #2 now also accepts the need to address and manage climate change impacts … and risks and accepts also the economic rationale, indeed necessity, for doing so now, rather than putting it off until … forever … as he long had argued for.

Having left behind him the Cato Institute and other climate “contrarian” partisans, interests, and individual climate science “deniers,” Taylor may yet come to be seen, in this second iteration, as being among the most quotable and effective communicators and proponents for climate action. And as one who to at least some extent has the ear of many on Capitol Hill disinclined to be seen as accepting the science or policy gravitas of ongoing atmospheric warming.

Jerry Taylor Version #1 and Jerry Taylor Version #2. It’s kind of a BC/AD situation, and an evolution that was triggered, interestingly enough, by a face-to-face challenge from well-known and feisty climate action activist and author Joe Romm, of the Center for American Progress and Climate Progress website.

Strange bedfellows that, many would surely say.

It’s Jerry Taylor Version #2 who is the focus of this month’s  Yale Climate Connections’ video by independent videographer Peter Sinclair, of Midland, Mi.

*Taylor says he doesn’t care to be described as a “libertarian” though that may be how many see him. “I’m a very heterodox libertarian at best,” he says – which means he’s unconventional or unorthodox among those seen as straight-out libertarian. “If I must be labeled ideologically, perhaps ‘moderate’ would be most correct,” Taylor now says. It’s an adjective few in the climate community might have thought appropriate not so long ago.

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Comments 1 to 14:

  1. It's great to see someone like Jerry Taylor change his views. It just takes some careful reading on climate change. The climate scientists sceptical of agw are in a small minority, but can be quite loud and have impressive degrees. The trick is to check their claims very carefully, because all is not always as it seems.

    As the article says the key thing is climate change threatens property, and both conservatives and libertarians are concerned with property rights. As more of a political moderate, I can definitely also relate to that view. Its excellent common ground right across the political spectrum.

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  2. it is great to hear  a man from Conservative supporting climate change as a reality.i wish the congressman to follow Jerry Taylor's example,including The President Trump and support climate change actions.

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  3. The development of better understanding regarding climate science is an important 'incremental' step for a person who has developed a strong preference for Conservative/Libertarian beliefs.

    I suggest the next incremental step in better understanding is the acceptance that the required objective of responsible leadership (in politics, business, media, academia ...), is to fairly correct what has incorrectly developed to limit the impact on future generations to 2.0 C increase.

    And the next logical increment of better understanding is the recognition of the failure of the Competitive Marketplace to responsibly respond for the benefit of the future of humanity. Consumerism and materialism competition to appear to be more prosperous than Others can incline many people to develop more desires to be freer to believe what they want and do as they please (including excusing understandably harmful ways of Winning their desired Private Interests to the detriment of Others including all those future generations of humanity who have no ability to effectively get 'even with them').

    The understanding of the harmfulness and unsustainability of the burning of fossil fuels was undeniably internationally established at the 1972 Stockholm Conference. The urgency of correcting the problem of CO2 from burning fossil fuels has become better understood since then. And the 1987 UN Report "Our Common Future" left no doubt about the main excuse for lack of responsible leadership by the winners in political and economic market competitions, a lack of action to limit harm done to future generations was popular and profitable because it could be gotten away with.

    The development of understanding since 1987 leading to the Kyoto Accord leaves less doubt about what acceptable/unacceptable leadership actions are. And the Paris Agreement tightens up that understanding.
    So, since 1987 (or earlier), the 'actions of already fairly fortunate people to still tried to get significant further benefit from the burning of fossil fuels rather than correcting their ways' is obviously a flaw in the Socio-economics of the Marketplace. It is as if the 'Invisible Hand was biased toward being harmful'. It is a result that clearly cannot be blamed on 'too much regulation of the marketplace games people play'. Though admittedly some 'regulations' like the attempts by some USA states to 'restrict the sale of Tesla vehicles in their state through regional regulation' are understandably deliberately harmful.

    That leads to the next increment of better understanding, the marketplace requires Helpful Refereeing; monitoring and enforcement that discourages harmful actions and encourages helpful actions.

    Those are admittedly big steps for some people to take, but those are logically the steps that they must take if they truly want to be helpful rather than harmful or irrelevant.

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  4. Libertarians and conservatives could perhaps look at the issues this way. First they often point out that the alleged problem with command and control hierarchical economies is that a central body can become over constricting, and cannot have enough information to make optimal economic decisions. (F Hayek, 1899 -1992 talked along these approximate lines). This is a fair criticism, although since the age of advanced computers this theory may no longer actually be entirely correct.

    The idea of the market is to let individuals make free decisions and the market will decide what they buy and value. This enocurages innovation. (Adam Smith 1723 - 1790). I'm a fan of this basic theory fwiw.

    The problem with the market is individuals can also do things that are very destructive to the community or other individuals.

    The solution is that markets must be policied, and need boundaries and regulations imposed by government, or in a few limited situations organisations can be self policing. Behaviours known to be destructive to the community and other individuals must be illegal, but only if its harming them in significant and material ways ( JS Mill 1806 - 1873).

    If a specific behaviour, like using a dangerous material in certain situations is banned, this in no way stops innovation and individual initiative, because it doesn't stop people using that material in other situations. Since the basic purpose of markets is to encourage innovation, market rules do not damage markets, provided they are sensible rules. That is the main thing people need to know along with what OPOF says.

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  5. nigelj,

    The most important thing for everyone to understand, admit and have guide their actions is that:

    • the only Good Purpose/Objective is actions that understandably improve the future for humanity.
    • any actions that are harmful to future generations are simply unacceptable, no matter how beneficial a portion of the current day population consider the harmful actions to be (the most appalling claim making includes making claims that current day perceptions of wealth inevitably grow into bigger better perceptions in the future, or that it is OK to create future negative consequences if the current day benefits are perceived to be bigger).

    If that completely universal understanding and acceptance ever develops, everyone honouring that understanding and never tempted to push a limit, there is no need for refereeing (or policing, or military power anywhere, or charities attempting to correct the inequities that otherwise develop). Of course that is a fairy tale future. And it is why ideologies based on the belief that 'Better Results will develop if people are freer to believe what they want and do as they please' have no real future.

    As the 1987 UN Report "Our Common Future" bluntly declared, the lack of concern for the future generations of humanity, and any other group that has no power to 'effectively get even with the ones benefiting from causing harm or higher risks of causing harm', is the reason so many unsustainable and harmful activities develop popular and profitable support. And those 'unsustainable and harmful to Others' ways of doing things are also easier and cheaper than more responsible ways of acting which makes it ore difficult for more responsible ways of pursuing profit to Win.

    And once an activity develops significant undeserved popularity or profitability it can be very difficult to correct the incorrect development.

    The much bigger climate change impact correction problem faced by today's generation of humanity, bigger in magnitude and the required rate of correction (as exposed by the continuing to improve awareness and understanding of climate science), is undeniably due to the lack of fair and responsible action by many of the most fortunate humans since the 1980s, since the time it became clear to all of those most fortunate humans that they 'had no Good Reason to continue to try to get away with what they had developed a damaging addiction to'.

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  6. This is related: "How six Americans changed their mind about global warming".

    There appear to be several pathways to this, but one common factor is just actually reading some sensible books, or attending a well presented lecture by some climate expert. So facts do change some peoples minds.

    Instead, some  people are reading climate denialist websites, and think tank echo chamber websites because its easier and free, which is unfortunate. NASA has great material on their website on  the basics of climate change, presented more like a book.

    Perhaps people are suspicious of climate material in the daily news media, out of a basic distrust of the traditional print media. I think such distrust can be overstated. News media are like anyone, they don't want to get things constantly wrong, and be embarrassed constantly. You just have to read between the lines and use some sense.

    The other thing is, and I say this reluctantly, Al Gores movie probably didn't convince many Republicans for obvious reasons, because of Gores strong political affiliations. However it was still a very skilled and 99% accurate presentation imho. 

    While people should look at the information on its merits, rather than the source of the information, ideally the movie would have been better coming from National Geographic or someone similar. But it's all history now. And its hard to know, because a movie from some established movie company could have been too dry, and not grabbed peoples attention like Gores movie did.

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  7. For a fascinating look at how one "skeptic" views his contributions to the discussion, I suggest looking into this recent post by Tamino and the very long series of comments that follows:

    I also sometimes recommend the following web page and the book and oher materials contained on it. The book is very long - start by reading the web page itself (short). The writer is a (now-retired?) social psychologist, who spent a career studying the authoritarian mindset.

    The Authoritarians

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  8. "the only Good Purpose/Objective is actions that understandably improve the future for humanity."

    So true. However it comes down to interpretations of good actions. Remember that quote from the  Vietnam War. “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”

    Excuse my cynicism. Everyone thinks they are doing good saving humanity. I guess a lot of education is needed on the right way of doing it! 

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  9. Taminos material was interesting. J Bell says global warming causes both droughts and floods, heat and cold, so is ridiculous nonsense. Various people gave very good, if predictable rebuttals.

    What intrigues me is whether Bell is truly sceptical, or knows perfectly well that a warming world could cause seemingly contradictory responses,  and has simply trawled through the global warming issue to find anything that might confuse people who aren't very bright, or are easily lead because their politics makes them sceptics. Either way, it leaves us little option but to waste time with rebuttals.

    Regarding the authoritarian personality. Moral foundations theory on wikipedia has some interesting and credible information as well.

    Blind obedience is a terrible, dangerous thing  and very authoritarian people are difficult for many of us to live with, yet others actually seem attracted to these personalities.

    I think the origins of authoritarianism are simply that its a basic parenting skill. I think it just becomes very excessive in some people, possibly because it reinforces conservative values, or they were over disciplined as children, so became very authoritarian themselves. Left and right economic movements can both have authoritarian leaders.

    However excessively authoritarian people are very resistant to acknowledging their problem. 

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  10. A perfect example of authoritarianism and obedience.

    "The invasion of the body snatchers is complete. Donald Trump has taken over the conservative movement and bent it to his will."

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  11. Nigelj:

    In "The Authoritarians",a lot of Bob Altemeyer's study looks at what he calls "authoritarian followers" - the people that blindly follow authoritarian leaders. He says the worst combination is a large group of authoritarian followers following a "social dominator" who will say anything to gain/keep power. He's developed a series of questions that provide what he calls a Right Wing Authoritarianism scale (RWA). Be very, very afraid of someone who is both a high RWA and a high social dominator.

    Not that we have any place like that currently. Not at all. Can't imagine it.

    I will follow up your Wikipedia suggestion on Moral Foundations Theory.

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  12. Bob Loblaw, Altemeyers study sounds very plausible. These very excessively obedient people remind me of children that have never fully grown up.

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  13. nigelj@8,

    I agree. A lot of education is required regarding what actions are helpful/acceptable. And it must continue in every future generation.

    The UN Sustainable Development Goals, or any of the many other presentations of the same set of objectives grouped into different categories, are a very good set of measures of acceptable actions.

    If those Good/Helpful Goals are substantially met there would be a dramatic reduction of the probability of development of events like the Vietnam War where bizarre declarations of what is required for the future of humanity get made-up and become temporarily regionally considered to be 'justified'.

    The US Military assessment that minimizing climate change impacts is an important way to improve the 'National Security of the USA and its International Interests' probably similarly applies to the achievement of many, if not all, of the SDGs.

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  14. This interview is excellent:

    "We talk to David Roberts from Vox about the intractability of conservatives on climate change and whether polarization is something to be avoided or embraced." 

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