Well, there are spectra of opinion, but let’s go with the three bears approach.
First, you can believe that the risks of anthropogenic global warming are trivial, consequential, or vast.
Second, you can believe that the social changes required to solve sustainability issues are trivial, substantial, or fundamental. The libertarian believes that the changes are trivial, and will be borne by the marketplace without direct intervention. The radical environmentalist believes that the modern attitude is irreparable, and sustainability is an existential social question as well as an existential environmental question. The moderate view is that some adjustments are needed.
These are separate questions. Your opinion on one should really have no bearing on your opinion on the other. That leaves nine possible opinions.
More to the point, they are different kinds of question.
The first is not a question of political philosophy at all. It is simply a question of fact; the dominant questions are physical, chemical and biological. It is not “radical” to believe that the risks are severe, nor is it “reactionary” to believe that the risks are trivial. It’s pretty much either right or wrong.
I believe the risks are severe.
The second is a question of political philosophy. Can the modern, post-Soviet, market-oriented worldview survive as is? Does it need some adjustment? Or must it be scrapped altogether. Here, I think the labels of “radical” and “reactionary” are quite appropriate, and this is where the dangers of immoderate beliefs lie.
I am a moderate. I think we can find our way through this without huge disruption to our culture, which has much to say for itself. I think the risks of extreme cultural change are real enough. History teaches us that absolutism is a great risk itself.
But I think it’s obvious, looking at the evidence, that carbon emissions must stop. (Update – In response to comments, I mean here NET carbon emissions. As Arthur put it in a recent message, the carbon either has to stay in the ground or go back in the ground. We cannot use the ocean as a carbon dump.) I find myself being cast as an “extremist” for saying this in public discussion, even though it’s pretty much what the entire expert community believes. No. After decades of gross neglect, the problem has gone from manageable to extreme. But it’s not “extremist” to say so.
In short, I think we can preserve the modern western freedom and most of the prosperity, and indeed make it better in some ways. It’s not automatic. It won’t be easy. I don’t think we can afford a revolution any more than we can afford the status quo. We have to fix our creaking, out of date and out-of-touch societies to be in touch with the world around us. The next century will, hopefully, not be as awful as the first half of the last one was, but we’ll need to be very smart to avoid the future being much worse than what we have had recently. We can preserve individual freedom, a functioning marketplace, and collective security while eliminating extreme poverty, just as we always intended. But we have to work at it.
That’s a centrist, middle-of-the-road position. It’s just the problems that have, from thirty years of neglect, gotten extreme.
Update: Check out Andrew Sullivan on the liberal/conservative divide. (Yet another hat tip to Scruffy Dan here.) A correspondent writes the following very interesting reflection:
Is it possible that, at this level – the principled, humane, calm, smart, broad-minded, pragmatic, courteous, inclusive, reality-based level – there really is no difference between conservative and liberal? That once having ascended the peak to actual, functional intellectual, emotional and spiritual adulthood — to human maturity — the paths of liberal and conservative meet, as they say all spiritual paths do?
Maybe we are all both conservative and liberal all along. Ask yourself: if you won a new car on some game show, but could only have one of the following two options, which would you choose – brakes, or an accelerator? The answer, of course, is every car needs both, just as every person, and every polity, needs both brakes (conservatism) and accelerator (liberalism) – and hopefully, both in good working order.
The only thing I might disagree with is which is the brake and which the accelerator, these days. The words seem to me to have lost much meaning beyond a sort of cultural cohesion.