Friday, August 2, 2013

The 3 Things Missing from the Republican Case for Climate Action

Sandy SkylineTwo articles make the Republican case for Congressional action on climate change today, one in the New York Times by former Environmental Protection Agency administrators under GOP presidents William D. Ruckelshaus, Lee M. Thomas, William K. Reilly, and Christine Todd Whitman, and one in the New Jersey Star-Ledger by former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC).
  1. Republican leaders aren't representing Republican voters on climate action. Poll after poll shows anywhere from 30% to 50% of Republican voters say climate change is happening and we should do something about it, but only a handful of Congressional Republicans advocate climate action. Why aren't Congressional Republicans representing their own voters on climate change? These articles ignore the disparity altogether.
  2. No one likes a carbon tax better than carbon limits. Both articles argue that a revenue-neutral carbon tax is superior to Environmental Protection Agency limits on carbon pollution, citing conservative economists who say that's the most virtuous way to go. The problem is that among non-economists, Americans across party lines agree taxes are bad and Environmental Protection Agency regulations are good. Even if it was popular, as Grist's David Roberts has detailed, a carbon tax is trickier than you think.
  3. Why is inaction untenable? Neither article lays out the scientific urgency of addressing climate change - for example, the number of American communities that inaction will literally put underwater. Neither article lays out the political urgency - for example, that young voters think Republican climate denial is ignorant, out-of-touch and crazy. Both articles focus on economic solutions, which again, is compelling to economists but won't win you many arguments at a neighborhood picnic. A much stronger case was made by a young conservative Congressional staffer ... who wrote under a pen name for fear of losing his job for speaking the truth about the scientific & political urgency of climate action.
Much like with immigration reform, Congressional Republicans have painted themselves into a political corner: They're screwed in the short-term because they've opposed sensible solutions for so long, they'll get none of the political credit for their passage. But that would leave them screwed in the long-term as the ignoramus party. Wouldn't you rather take the short-term hit and move on to topics that you can win on?

I'd rather these articles have dealt with that reality, rather than blaming "gridlock" and pushing plans no one likes. Where does that get us?
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