Republicans Need to Stop Being Afraid of Climate Change

12/11/2015 05:57 pm ET Updated Dec 11, 2016
Power Plant in the sunrise
Power Plant in the sunrise

This week, yet another scientist had to school yet another Republican on how weather works. Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R-TX) trotted out his "there's-been-no-warming-for-18-years" schtick during a Senate hearing and Retired Rear Admiral David Titley (a meteorologist and oceanographer) very patiently explained to him why he's mistaken.

The answer is science. But that has seldom stopped Republicans like Ted Cruz or Jimmy Inhofe or Marco Rubio from playing dumb on the subject. Congress has an ambitious climate change resolution ready to transform the country, but it will go absolutely nowhere if these legislators get their way.

It Wasn't Always So

Today, the most vocal Republican leaders have seen fit to side increasingly with big business at the expense of the common man, with fundamentalist Christians at the expense of the mildly exotic man, against women's rights, against gay rights and against the scientific consensus that industrialization is poisoning the Earth.

It wasn't always this way. Theodore Roosevelt, the nation's 26th President, was an unabashed imperialist, but let's give credit where credit is due: He was also one of the most important conservationists in US history. He created the US Forest Service, established 51 Federal Bird Reservations, four National Game Preserves, 150 National Forests, five National Parks and 18 National Monuments. And he was a Republican.

Earlier this year, Republicans in the House sponsored HR 330, known by its critics as the "No More National Parks" bill. The bill would amend the 1906 Antiquities Act -- which Roosevelt used to proclaim those 18 National Monuments -- to require extensive Congressional approval prior to the creation of any further monuments or protected marine parks.

In the '70s, President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Today, Republicans are doing everything they can to hamstring them both.

When President George Bush I looked at the science and saw that sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants were causing acid rain, he got behind the Clean Air Act of 1990. It has since become a heavy burden on Republicans' collective conscience. After all, regulations on how much poison can be pumped into the air puts a heavy burden on plants' productivity.

The Future Is Renewable

I've spent the last week in Paris talking with business leaders, activists, politicians and conservationists, and it has become increasingly clear that, regardless of the COP21 outcome, the world is heading towards a renewable future. Last Friday, delegates from 1,000 cities around the world gathered at Le Bourget in Paris to pledge their commitment to a 100 percent renewable transition (or an 80 percent carbon reduction) by 2050.

In the US, the solar industry is booming, growing nearly 22 percent in 2014. That's good, because the scientific literature points the finger squarely at carbon and methane emissions as the key driver of anthropogenic global warming.

Republicans refuse to accept this science on principle. One study found that over 56 percent of Congressional Republicans (including 72 percent of Republican Senators) dispute or deny climate change and, in the last four years, Republicans have voted against environmental legislation 551 times.

Why can't we build a fossil fuel future? Apart from the fact that these fuels are limited, and that transporting and drilling for oil has led to dangerous explosions, irreversible damage to the environment and the befouling of priceless groundwater resources, Goldman Sachs has warned that some $900 billion worth of oil assets are likely to become worthless in the very near future. Why? Falling prices and a growing international consensus that non-sustainable energies should be taxed and their subsidies removed.

GOP Principles Will Hurt the GOP

The same antediluvian principles that the GOP holds so dear are already putting them at cross-purposes to their potential constituents.

Earlier this year, several Republican candidates took the wrong message to Iowa, where the first major electoral events are held in presidential elections. Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and Scott Walker all publicly spoke out against the federal wind production tax credit (fellow candidates Marco Rubio and Rand Paul have also voted against renewing it in the past).

"Look, I think wind is terrific," Cruz said at the event. "As you know, Texas and Iowa are one and two in the country in wind production, but once again I don't think it should be the federal government dictating that."

But that's just the problem. Iowa loves the tax credit on wind power. They love wind power, period. The Wall Street Journal notes that wind supports between 5,000 and 7,000 manufacturing jobs statewide.

You know who was also against the tax credit? Mitt Romney. You know who lost Iowa in 2012? Romney.

It was Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley who authored the legislation that created the wind production tax credit in the 1990s, and he has gone on record saying that he supports wind because it's better than "more expensive and more polluting sources of energy, lowering electricity prices for consumers." Grassley has even encouraged presidential candidates to spend time in Iowa and learn why wind is so important to them.

Meanwhile, Tom Morrissey, a former Arizona Republican Party chairman has called the GOP's national leaders "knuckleheads" for their stubborn opposition to renewables. Putting it as bluntly as possible, Morrissey described solar's edge over oil thusly: "If we can keep one dollar from going to people who are killing our kids in Afghanistan, it's a good thing -- and I feel that's what solar energy does."

Please Get Out of the Way if You Can't Lend a Hand

I'll end by saying this. The Republican party needs to look deep into its heart and first understand why Donald Trump is currently their most beloved candidate. Is it because Trump is so qualified to lead them or because the gravity of the GOP's atavism has reached a critical mass and is now collapsing on itself?

Maybe that's not fair, but neither is telling me climate change isn't real when southern California is a year away from dehydration and Alaska is on fire.