04/24/2014 01:42 pm ET Updated Jun 24, 2014

The Goldberg Variations

Well, I'll give National Review writer Jonah Goldberg this: at least he didn't try to compare climate scientists to sex offenders.

Goldberg, whose magazine has been filled with advertisements from the fossil-fuel industry for years, unsurprisingly chided the Obama administration for delaying a final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline in a nationally syndicated April 23 piece. After doing so, Goldberg actually conceded a point not often acknowledged by conservative pundits: the fact that environmental protection wasn't always scorned by the GOP.

"Conservation used to be a fairly bipartisan affair. Dubbed the 'father of conservation' by the National Park Service, Republican Teddy Roosevelt did more than any other president to preserve large swaths of wilderness. Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency, expanded the Clean Air Act, signed the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and proposed the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The relationship between environmentalists and Republicans soured under Ronald Reagan as he tried to pare back the excesses of the Carter and Nixon years. But the two sides truly broke up under George H. W. Bush. Actually, it was more like the GOP was dumped -- unfairly.

Bush fought for renewal and expansion of the landmark Clean Air Act, but most environmental groups wouldn't even attend the signing. He went to the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, and he signed the U.N. treaty on climate change that established the Kyoto Protocol process.

'So how many environmental groups endorsed Bush for reelection in 1992?' asked environmental analyst Steve Hayward in a 2010 Weekly Standard essay. 'In round numbers: zero.'"

Of course, what Goldberg doesn't acknowledge is that although Bush did admit human-caused climate change was a problem, his Chief of Staff, John H. Sununu (who left a year before the end of Bush's term), and his Energy Secretary, James D. Watkins, were both vehement climate-change deniers, as Ross Gelbspan noted in his 1997 book The Heat Is On. While Bush's Secretary of State, James Baker, and Environmental Protection Agency head, William K. Reilly, also recognized that carbon pollution was a legitimate concern, the science was snubbed by Sununu, who tried to have climate scientist James Hansen fired from NASA in the late 1980s.

Those concerned about the climate cannot be faulted for desiring an administration with a little more consistency on the issue, as opposed to an administration that pledged to take strong action on carbon pollution in the 1988 presidential campaign only to ridicule the notion of strong action four years later. Goldberg and Hayward may still be upset by the environmental community's support for Bill Clinton, but sour grapes don't become any fresher after 22 years.

Further, Goldberg asserts: "Republicans don't need to worry about pleasing environmentalists because they know there is no pleasing them."

To the contrary, environmentalists would be more than pleased if Republicans in the House and Senate embraced the anti-pollution ideas the GOP created -- i.e., emissions trading or a revenue-neutral carbon tax -- as a means of addressing this issue.

Goldberg also states: "Important work is being done on serious problems, such as ocean acidification, overfishing, elephant and rhino poaching, and loss of habitat. None of these issues get a fraction of the coverage they deserve. That's because many environmental reporters think their beat begins and ends with climate change."

This raises the obvious question of how much coverage these issues receive in National Review itself. The question, of course, answers itself.

Note that in this column, Goldberg does not declare climate change a hoax. Of course, if he did so, he would, in essence, label his NR colleague Jim Manzi a liar, and he's not about to do that. So if it isn't a hoax, one has to ask: How does he think the GOP should address this issue?

As we approach the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's signing of the Civil Rights Act, the central role played by the late Republican Congressman Bill McCulloch in the passage of the bill has not gone unnoticed. McCulloch resisted tremendous pressure in order to take a moral stand on behalf of future generations. As the political momentum builds to combat carbon pollution, it is inevitable that a Republican member of Congress will face a choice between continued genuflection to the fossil-fuel lobby and following in the courageous footsteps of McCulloch -- this time, to protect the civil rights of everyone on this planet.

One day, a Republican representative or senator will once again express a willingness to support legislation that puts a price on carbon and finally allows America to demonstrate global leadership on climate. When that day comes, will Goldberg and his National Review colleagues support that bold Republican? Or will they simply declare that individual nothing more than a worthless RINO squish who succumbed to liberal fascism and the tyranny of cliches?