The nay-sayers on climate change came out in a big way today with a full page advertisement in the Washington Post and New York Times under the sponsorship of the Cato Institute.   I suspect they are wrong but in the interest of laying it all out there, I think it is important to consider the advertisement and the argument that’s being made.  Perhaps they are right and the rest of us are wrong.  The consequences of them being wrong, however, will likely be catastrophic.

I must also question their involvement with the nay-sayers on this issue.  Who can argue with the Cato Institute’s motto of “free markets, liberty and peace”.  In my view, however, Cato has become much more than its motto.  It has become the home of the rigidly ideological libertarian.  While I can understand that libertarians, who possess a general aversion to government, might chafe at any solution to a problem that necessarily involves a large role for government, I am deeply suspicious in this case that it is Cato’s ideological rigidity more than any science that’s at play here.  It would appear that what’s happening is that Cato and its ideological brethren would rather deny the problem (and science) than accept the inevitable government involvement that would be required should the problem and the science be accepted.       

I suggest that instead of denying climate change that a much better and productive focus for Cato would be on how government can best address the phenomena.  I am firmly in the camp that believes that “cap and trade” as a solution to climate change is folly and that the only viable solution, and the only one that truly relies on market forces, is the carbon tax.  For a variety of reasons beyond climate change a carbon tax, is an idea that needs to be given the most serious consideration.  

It is my view that the American public will neither understand nor ultimately accept the massive government bureaucracy that will be required to administer a cap and trade system.  We would be better off doing it right in the first place with a carbon tax.  For decades we have been subsidizing the internal combustion engine by refusing to attach to the price of gasoline, through a tax, the cost to our government of keeping gasoline inexpensive.  This subsidization has notably included the billions of dollars in defense expenditure required each year to keep the middle east “secure”.  Their have been other notable consequences of this subsidization.  The low cost of gasoline has wreaked havoc on our countryside and our road systems with the burgeoning of suburbia, what I call “McMansions in the burbs”.  This lifestyle is and always has been unsustainable, made possible only by government subsidization of oil imports.  A carbon tax, implemented by government but relying on the market appears to me to be the soundest solution, and a solution that Cato with its ‘less government’ philosophy could help to promote if it weren’t already aligned with the nay-sayers on climate change.  Cato may come to regret this alignment as the train toward climate change legislation moves forward.  I’d argue they could play a much more important role in shaping that solution than they are playing in denying its necessity.

Cato and other libertarians need to quit denying the underlying reality and direct their anti-government instincts toward solutions to climate change that minimize the role of government and emphasize the role of the market.