James West recalls Thatcher’s speech at the 1990 Second World Climate Conference:
[H]er speech laid out a simple conservative argument for taking environmental action: “It may be cheaper or more cost-effective to take action now,” she said, “than to wait and find we have to pay much more later.” Global warming was, she argued, “real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations.”
The Iron Lady’s speech makes for fascinating reading in the context of 2013′s climate acrimony, drenched as it is in party politics. In the speech, she questioned the very meaning of human progress: Booming industrial advances since the Age of Enlightenment could no longer be sustained in the context of environmental damage. We must, she argued, redress the imbalance with nature wrought by development.
“Remember our duty to nature before it is too late,” she warned. “That duty is constant. It is never completed. It lives on as we breathe.”
David Frum reprints some of the speech as well. Thatcher cited the IPCC and her skepticism was not to be confused with the denialism now at large in America’s know-nothing rump:
The IPCC report is very honest about the margins of error. Climate change may be less than predicted. But equally it may occur more quickly than the present computer models suggest. Should this happen it would be doubly disastrous were we to shirk the challenge now. I see the adoption of these policies as a sort of premium on insurance against fire, flood or other disaster. It may be cheaper or more cost-effective to take action now than to wait and find we have to pay much more later.
While I’m at it, some other discomforting facts for today’s American right. Thatcher was a firm believer in international law – and opposed the US invasion of Grenada and Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands as a violation of that order. She was a strong supporter of nuclear deterrence and containment – as opposed to pre-emptive war. She wanted UN support for any intervention in Iraq, and inisted it be limited to restoration of the old borders. She cut taxes but, unlike the GOP under Reagan and the second Bush, she also cut spending seriously. She didn’t have any time for the loopy idea that cutting taxes would increase net revenues.
She inherited and handed over a fully socialized medical system, and, while tearing apart the government’s control of the economy, did not undo the welfare state in any profound way. “The National Health Service Is Safe With Us” was her constant refrain. Her policies on healthcare make Obama’s modest private sector-based reform look positively right-wing. She loathed Europe but signed the Maastricht Treaty, and deepened British ties to the Continent. She was the first Cold Warrior to respond to Gorbachev. In all this, she remains pragmatically alien to the current Southern-based GOP. And her undemonstrative Methodism was never worn on her sleeve.
Like Reagan, in other words, she could never be a contender in today’s GOP. She was far too conservative, in the proper sense of that word. She preferred order to revolution – and her own revolution was about the restoration of civic order, not its dissolution.