Apparently, the debate over global warming is not as big as the hard-liners at Fox News and on Capitol Hill would lead us to believe. A recent study released by Yale and George Mason University found that nearly 80 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents support increasing renewable energy use and more than 60 percent believe the United States should take action to address climate change.
Interestingly, the report also found that only a third of Republican respondents agree with the GOP’s position on climate change, which has changed dramatically since 2008.
Believe it or not, the Republican Party’s 2008 platform contained a lengthy and detailed section on “Addressing Climate Change Responsibly” and called for “technology-driven, market-based solutions that will decrease emissions, reduce excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, increase energy efficiency, mitigate the impact of climate change where it occurs and maximize any ancillary benefits climate change might offer for the economy.”
At the time, then-Republican presidential candidate and current U.S. Senator, John McCain, was proposing a cap-and-trade program to put a price on carbon, one of the first members of Congress to do so. John Warner, a Republican senator from Virginia, was co-sponsoring legislation to reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. While Republicans did not agree with Democrats and environmentalists on everything, they were at least taking part in a discussion over how to best counter the planet’s changing climate – and not a debate over whether or not it was occurring at all.
Fast-forward a few years and we see a much different picture. The 2012 GOP platform nixed the climate change section altogether and opposed “any and all cap and trade legislation” to reduce carbon emissions. It even took aim at the Environmental Protection Agency, calling for Congress to “take quick action to prohibit the EPA from moving forward with new greenhouse gas regulations.” In a major reversal, the document referred to climate change as an “uncertain phenomenon,” claiming climate scientists were more motivated by politics than genuine science.
Since its epic failure in last year’s presidential election, the GOP is facing somewhat of an identity crisis. In a country that is becoming increasingly more multicultural and socially diverse, the Republican Party often is viewed as a stubborn holdout of aging traditionalists more concerned with maintaining the status quo of the 1950s than dealing with 21st century problems. A Pew poll released in February found that 62 percent of the public thinks the GOP is out of touch with the American people and 52 percent say the party is too extreme.
With the Republican base largely in favor of tackling climate change, why are those representing them in Washington so against it? While Big Oil’s financing of Republican campaigns ($180 million since 1990) and backing of lobbyists on Capitol Hill undoubtedly plays a role, mainstream Republicans also have failed to make climate change a priority, focusing more on the economy or social issues like opposing gun control or gay marriage.
But there is hope. While House Republicans continue to oppose and obstruct renewable energy and climate change initiatives, a slew of Republican governors are tackling global warming head-on, including New Jersey Governor and potential 2016 presidential hopeful Chris Christie, who in 2011 signed into law a bill mandating solar purchases by state utilities, which helped the Garden State surpass California as the largest solar market in the country.
As the effects of climate change become more and more apparent, we can no longer afford to put the discussion over how to deal with it on the backburner. The stakes are too high to continue to debate the existence of what ought to be treated as the great challenge of our time. If we are to move towards a brighter future, then the sensible Republican majority must reclaim its party from the reactionary chums currently infesting the Hill’s hallways.
Most importantly of all, we must never forget that global warming is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue, but a human one.
Based in San Francisco, California, Mike Hower is an Associate Editor at Sustainable Brands and writes about companies and organizations engaged in sustainability strategy, clean technology and social entrepreneurship. As a natural politico, he has a soft spot for anything related to public policy and the intersection of business and government, which he also blogs about on SustySavvy.com. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter (@mikehower).
[image credit: Mike Hower]