A Libertarian View on Climate Change

Rob Bailey is Reason’s leading libertarian columnists on the environment and climate change. In 2005, he
renounced his climate skepticism due to studies that brought satellite data patterns more into line with surface temperature data. The Yale Forum recently interviewed Bailey to pick his mind about questions relating to libertarianism, privatizing common spaces and other various problems relating to climate change.


Reason Science Writer Ron Bailey’s Libertarian Take on Climate, Free Markets

Cross-post from The Yale Forum on Climate Change and The Media

by John Wihbey

Long-time Reason science correspondent Ron Bailey likes the position he’s staked out as neither “green sympathizer” nor as “industry apologist.” And he likes too being neither fish nor fowl — that is neither Democratic nor Republican, not “blue” and not “red” — when it comes to convenient political labels.

It may be that being “free-market” and libertarian is something of its own niche market.

To Bailey, it’s the political unpredictability that helps the Reason website attract some four-million page views, as it did last month.

The libertarian-oriented organization and its publication pride themselves on deflating balloons of received wisdom. And Bailey, as one of the leading libertarian columnists on the environment and climate change, has spent 15 years at Reason doing just that, mixing wit, sarcasm, a bit of well-calculated cantankerousness, and a lot of detailed policy analysis.

Even if you don’t agree with him — and many progressives doubtless will not, given his earlier history of climate skepticism and his continued opposition to most government regulatory solutions, such as cap and trade — his articles consistently serve up a kind of bipartisan pleasure by skewering the powerful on many sides.

Take for example his views on the 2012 Democratic and Republican party platforms.

Bailey needles the GOP for not even “bothering to address the scientific evidence for man-made warming” and says of the party’s pro-nuclear stance: “There is not a word about why taxpayers should serve as nuclear power venture capitalists by being on the hook for $17 billion in federal nuclear power plant loan guarantees.”

Likewise, he takes to task the Democrats, under President Obama, for failing to live up to a variety of promises. Further, he notes, “It is heartening that the President recognizes the importance of natural gas production to the future of U.S. economy and job creation. This suggests that his administration will not endorse ideological environmentalists calls for a moratorium on fracking shale gas.”

In 1993, Bailey became the first Warren T. Brookes Fellow in Environmental Journalism at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, named after the Detroit News’ staunchly conservative environmental correspondent. He spent the 1990s and early 2000s poking at holes he saw in the atmospheric science and editing books that exposed what he considered to be “eco-myths” and “eco-scams”. His was a take-no-prisoners writing style.

In August 2005, Bailey renounced his climate skepticism because, he says, of the publication of studies in Science that brought satellite data patterns more into line with surface temperature data.

“Anyone still holding onto the idea that there is no global warming ought to hang it up,” he wrote in “We’re All Global Warmers Now.” “All data sets — satellite, surface, and balloon — have been pointing to rising global temperatures.”

And a year later, in a humorous piece — “Confessions of an Alleged ExxonMobil Whore” and subtitled “Actually no one paid me to be wrong about global warming. Or anything else.” — he documented his path from global warming skepticism to data-driven acceptance of human-induced climate change. It was around the time that other like-minded journalists and observers such as Gregg Easterbrook were changing their views on global warming (Bailey has pointed out he got there first.)

In any case, since then Bailey has trained his fire on — among other science-related topics — green-oriented solutions and IPCC efforts to find global fixes to the problem. He may believe in global warming, but the solutions, he feels, need to be free-market. There’s no renouncing that, he says.

The Yale Forum recently caught up with Bailey in a phone interview.

To read the edited transcript of the interview and full article click here.

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