If we are ever to pass climate and energy legislation in the US we must find a way of reaching Republicans. Here is a reedited, amended and expanded article that was originally published in Global Warming is Real on May 15.
We will never be able to pass climate and energy legislation in the
US without engaging conservatives. So it is crucial that we understand
their opposition to the science of climate and develop strategies that
are consistent with their ideological bent. Although modern-day
Republicans are well known for being anti-environment, it has not
always been this way. Historically, some of the most environmentally oriented Presidents have been Republicans.
Republican members of Congress have contended that the science of
global warming is a hoax perpetrated by a global conspiracy of climate
scientists. Meanwhile, others acknowledge that the Earth is warming,
but attribute it to natural warming rather than human activity.
The theory of natural warming has been effectively put to rest,
due to a body of evidence that includes research by McGill University
physics professor Shaun Lovejoy, computer modeling, reports from the most recent International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Third US National Climate Assessment.
Republicans resist climate and energy legislation. Part of the
problem is due to reflexive disagreement with Democrats which is ultimately about self serving political partisanship. Obstructionism serves their
short term political agenda. Another part of the reason why Republicans take
these anti-science positions is because they are ignorant. Nowhere is the GOP’s lack of understanding more apparent than in the House of Representatives. To make matters worse, the
more they are portrayed as anti-science, the more they are politically motivated to distance themselves from science. We need to
give conservatives a face saving way of getting in touch with reality.
It is hard to get conservatives to listen to arguments for the merits
of combating climate change when the economy is weak. We saw an influx of anti-science Republicans in the 2010 midterms when Republicans fared better than the
However, as the economy recovers, making the point that global
warming comes with massive costs becomes easier. It is becoming
increasingly clear that climate change is already having a broad impact
on the economy.
While the cost of climate change is already staggering, it is
destined to get far worse. According to a study from the Stockholm
Environment Institute called Valuing the Oceans, if the rise of greenhouse gases continues unabated, sea level rise alone will result in costs of $2 trillion each year.
Some have estimated that in the last two years alone, delays in engaging climate change have cost us $8 trillion. The longer we wait, the higher the price tag. The IEA says that climate change will cost $115 trillion by 2050.
The cost of mitigation is far smaller than the costs associated with
climate change. In the final analysis, runaway climate change will
undermine every aspect of our economy, so there is a powerful economic
argument that can be made in defense of legislating mitigation efforts.
There are central tenants of orthodox conservatism that are entirely
consistent with combating climate change. Central to this thesis are
free markets and free enterprise. Nowhere is this more pertinent than on
the issue of energy, if we take all the subsidies and tax
breaks away and factor the real costs of energy, including carbon
emissions, it becomes readily apparent that cleaner forms of energy will
win out over fossil fuels.
God and religious morality
We need new narratives
to reach people who may not respond to science. Conservatives
tend towards Christian fundamentalism. Republicans may be receptive to
the argument that we are morally obliged to engage in environmental
stewardship. Worshipping God in or behind creation infers such
stewardship. New narratives can highlight the role of morality and spirituality in combating climate change.
The rule of law
Conservatives tend to believe in the rule of law. Their preoccupation
with things like property rights acknowledges that when a person or a
corporate entity does something on their property, that adversely
impacts their neighbors’ property, and it violates biblical law, English
common law and American common law. Carbon emissions clearly contravene
all three types of law.
Further, given the research that shows that climate change fosters a breakdown in social order, reducing greenhouse gas emissions may be the best way of supporting the rule of law.
There is a powerful logic to making polluters pay. This position is
supported by Energy and Enterprise Initiative (E&EI), a nationwide
public engagement campaign that explores and promotes conservative
solutions to energy and climate challenges in the US Such taxes would
eliminate the market distortion, which allows companies to
emit unlimited amounts of carbon. Instituting a revenue neutral carbon
tax (as opposed to one that generates revenue), may appeal to some
Republicans. US cap and trade legislation failed in 2009 due
in large part to the perception that it was another effort to generate
money for the federal government. Leading climate scientist, James Hansen is among those who believe that Republicans could support a carbon tax.
One of the salient reasons why many Republicans resist such carbon
taxes is due to the argument that even if the US were to institute
such a tax, China, the world’s leading carbon emitter, would be given an
unfair advantage. However, if the US took a leadership role, they
could tax all imports based on their carbon footprint. Once
the US secured the support of the WTO, nations like China would be
forced to follow. China would be faced with the choice of either
collecting those taxes themselves at source or watching Chinese
firms pay those taxes to the US
To get Republicans on-board requires that a few brave individuals opt
to transcend petty tribalism in the national interest. However, as
the public becomes better informed, this may also serve their own
political interests. We need climate and energy legislation and there is
no avoiding the fact that we need Republicans if we are to succeed
in passing such legislation in the United States. Members of
the GOP who are reluctant to cross the partisan divide need to be given a
rational to do so.
Source: Global Warming is Real