There is a good argument to be made that the two genuine US contributions to applied political philosophy are the recognition that environmental protection is a government responsibility and the recognition that government power has a dangerous momentum of its own that must be checked and balanced. The two strands come together as we face climate change. Interests protecting the fossil fuel industry fan the fear of government overreach and inject the poison of false science into a receptive audience that distrusts government. Conversely other Americans see the prospect of massive damage to the environment (as we know it) from greenhouse gas emissions and clamor for a national and international governmental response which to date has not been forthcoming.
Jim Hansen, former chief NASA climate scientist, Columbia University professor and bête noire of the climate change deniers recently made the interesting observation that conservatives who fear the tentacles of government intrusion are creating their own worst nightmares by blocking early and (hopefully) effective action. He argues that the most effective measure has to come from the right: a revenue neutral carbon tax that allows market mechanisms with minimal government interference to find the most efficient alternatives.
“If they continue to pretend that human-made climate change is a hoax, eventually you get to the point where nature makes it clear it wasn’t a hoax and then the public demands the government do something and that’s the worst nightmare for conservatives.”
Hansen stated in a recent interview with Mark Jaffe of the Denver Post, blogs.denverpost.com/thebalancesheet/tag/jim–hansen/.
One could also add that the earlier the ground of the debate shifts to how to reduce and adapt to the risks of climate change from the unproductive and unsustainable view that there is no risk to speak of, the less governmental measures of any kind will be needed because public perceptions will change and voluntary measures of all sorts will emerge. We stopped littering the highways when most of us understood that it was a communally inappropriate behavior to which moral opprobrium attached, not out of fear of $50 fines.
In WARMING!, the soon to be published cli-fi novel, the background conflict is between those who seek to respond to the damaging eco-legacy of the 20th Century with forceful government measures and those who seek a more Jeffersonian way.