Markets not a panacea

To the Editor:

In “Dispute on Climate Change…,” the author offered the stark assessment that government mandates to reduce carbon emissions are tantamount to a national takeover of the economy.

There is scant evidence for such fears in the annals of American history; moreover, they ignore the unique role of government in planning for challenges of national scale. The impact of laws on clean air and water, child labor or to ban the use of DDT, place limits on the work week and end many forms of discrimination in the workplace flatly contradict this dystopian prediction.

The continued assault on the evidence for climate change is another sign of the rise of anti-intellectualism in our political culture. Richard Hofstadter’s 1964 Pulitzer Prize-winning treatise on the topic attributes this trend to our cultural heritage; Max Boot, former foreign policy adviser to three Republican presidential candidates, notes with dismay how populist commentators and politicians attack “elites” in order to ingratiate themselves with the common man. Science is dismissed by those who don’t understand it, or who see it as a threat to orthodoxy. A decadeslong tirade against the government by media fear mongers making a fortune peddling ridicule and alarmism has eviscerated confidence in our leaders and institutions; the disease it feeds poisons our national discourse. The market is lauded, in reverential terms, as the cure for all ills.

Yet there was no market incentive for industry to avoid dumping the wastes that made Boston Harbor, the Cuyahoga River and myriad other sites around the country ecological disasters. Is not the price tag for their cleanup higher than that of prevention? There is no market for insuring persons with medical conditions, whose cost to treat is many times that of the premiums that could hope to be collected; let those who would say “not my problem” remember that “there but for the grace of God, go I.” Market interest led to disastrous overuse of antibiotics in agriculture; should we wait for the plague resistant to all known medicines to materialize before we outlaw their use?

Climate change threatens to overwhelm us before the market for solutions matures. The evidence of a warming planet should be compelling to an audience willing to be persuaded by facts. We can’t afford the cost of inaction.

Paul Loefstedt