02/11/2013 03:39 pm ET Updated Apr 13, 2013

A Climate Plan Is Good Politics

Guessing the contents of the State of the Union is a favorite Washington parlor game this time of year. I am putting my money on the issue of climate change. After President Obama devoted a chunk of his Inaugural Address to laying out the moral and economic imperatives on why we must act to curb climate change, I hope to hear his plans for moving us forward towards that goal during the State of the Union.

Many Americans are eager to hear how we can confront this crisis. Now that intense drought, heat waves, storms and other extreme weather are bearing down on our communities, many voters are calling for action. In September, the majority of voters favored candidates who agree the Environmental Protection Agency should reduce carbon pollution, according to a survey by Public Policy Polling.

The White House and other Democratic leaders are responding to the call and deepening their climate commitment. Many Republicans, however, are heading in the opposite direction.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee recently announced that one of its central strategies for the 2014 election cycle will be attacking Democrats for their efforts to address climate change.

That's right. They want to pillory lawmakers for trying to solve the single greatest environmental and humanitarian crisis of our time. They want to punish them for trying to reduce pollution that is pumping weather systems with steroids and contributing to 14 extreme events costing more $1 billion each in
losses in 2011 and 11 $1 billion extreme events in 2012

This tone deaf response isn't just bad for our nation. It's bad for GOP candidates.

In the 2012 election, Americans swept climate champions into office up and down the ticket. In race after race, climate deniers and anti-regulatory candidates got millions of dollars from polluting industries, but they didn't get the votes.

George Allen, for instance, tried to win the Virginia Senate race with nearly $12 million from Karl Rove's Super PACs and $4.5 million from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Allen worked as a consultant for a climate denial outfit and wanted to open Virginia's coast to oil and gas drilling. His Democratic opponent Tim Kaine, meanwhile, told voters, "We need a national energy policy that takes immediate advantage of Virginia and America's own energy resources to end our dependence on foreign oil." Despite the millions spent on dirty ad blitzes, Virginians chose Kaine's clean energy vision for their state.

A similar pattern played out in several states across the country, including decidedly red states. The National Republican Senatorial Committee plan for 2014 singled out Montana as a place where it would attack candidates' climate action. Yet this approach ignores the fact that Senator John Tester just won reelection after running on clean energy and talking about what global warming is doing to his dryland farm in Central Montana. "History will judge us on how we deal with climate," Tester has said.

Several newly elected Senators agree. Last weekend, I visited with Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico. He told me that the people of New Mexico see what is happening to their land and the world around them and they want action.

And yet the GOP is doubling down on a losing climate strategy that will continue to alienate Americans. Including one of the most coveted demographic groups: young people. Young people know that if America continues its climate paralysis, their generation will pay the price. John Carson, the former director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and the new executive director of Organizing for America, says that if you asked young volunteers on the Obama campaign why they got involved in politics, the largest majority answered the environment. Young voters believe they can make a difference, and so they mobilize. GOP candidates who run on climate denial probably won't be getting their votes.

It doesn't have to be this way. Some Republican leaders are sensing the changing demographic winds and moderating their positions. Senator Mark Rubio, for instance, supports immigration reform. Senator Mark Kirk--and NRA member--is talking about gun control. There is room for Republicans to lead on climate as well.

In the meantime, we will be looking to President Obama to set our country on a path toward climate stability. He can start by talking about it in the State of the Union Address. We will just have to wait and see if some Republicans respond by dumping the losing strategy of climate denial.