For the first time in six years, the Republican-held Senate held a committee hearing on climate change; one senator in particular offered lessons for why businesses need to speed up the race to take on such risks.
The political divide over climate change falls neatly into two categories: Republican office holders in the U.S. Congress consistently reject federal policies aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions, while Democratic office holders advocate for ways in which to minimize climate change risks. However, this conventional wisdom may soon change.
Last week, the Republican-held Senate held a committee hearing on climate change for the first time in six years. As significant as the event was, though, it sailed almost completely under the media radar.
Nevertheless, the hearing provided a roadmap for businesses that seek to make the case for climate action with Republican office holders.
A roadmap for a bipartisan climate change conversation
The partisan divide is already breaking down over clean power, as the cost benefits of renewable energy become more visible in daily life.
Similarly, the impacts of climate change are no longer a nebulous concern of some future generation. They are piling up here and now. The costs for companies are starting to pile up as well.
And that conversation is starting. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska convened an Energy and Natural Resources Committee Hearing, under the title, “Oversight Hearing to Examine the Electricity Sector in a Changing Climate.”
Senator Murkowski’s opening statement provided the blueprint for bridging the partisan divide.
First, she made it clear that advocates for climate action do not need to provide any more grist for the climate denial mill. In her first paragraph, she noted that the purpose of Tuesday’s hearing was to provide more detail on the “effect that climate change is having on decisions within the electricity sector,” not to convince deniers that climate change is happening.
To hammer home the point, she listed a series of here-and-now impacts that are affecting daily life in her state:
“It is directly impacting our way of life. Diminishing sea ice and melting permafrost are real world challenges that we must contend with today. We’re seeing wildlife migration patterns that are changing, we’re seeing changes within our fisheries as we’re seeing different species in northern waters than we have before. It’s impacting subsistence, it’s impacting food security, certainly impacting our economy with our fisheries.”
The economic impacts of climate change cross party lines
Second, and most importantly, Senator Murkowski emphasized the direct impacts of climate change on one critical sector of the Alaskan economy, its fisheries. She drew particular attention to the ability of fry (young fish, including the famous Alaska salmon, that have just developed the capacity to feed themselves) to survive in hatcheries in recent years. These fish have been pushed farther out to sea by climate change-linked drought. She took note of a recent news article headlined, “Hatcheries are the Canary in the Coal Mine as Drought Extends across Southeast Waters.”
The Alaska Public Radio story discussed how after several years of declining rainfall patterns, lakes and reservoirs in America’s largest state have not been able to replenish historic water levels. The impacts are now wreaking havoc on the Alaskans who rely on fishing for a living.
In a related comment, Murkowski talked about community-wide economic impacts. The ongoing drought in Southeastern Alaska has forced some communities to switch from low-cost, low-carbon hydropower to expensive and emissions-emitting diesel fuel for electricity generation.
Climate change and the voting public
Finally, Murkowski linked climate change to a drop in the quality of life that have changed the lives of thousands of people – as in, voters – across her state. She described how the ongoing drought in Southeastern Alaska is stressing water resources in communities that have long been accustomed to living under rainforest conditions.
She also pointed to extreme cases in which some communities need to relocate “in order to survive the encroaching seas.”
Finally, in an emotional appeal, Murkowski linked climate change to the loss of traditions and state identity. Without spelling it out in so many words, she also drew a connection to tourism and the looming economic disaster that would occur when popular destinations and events eventually fall to climate impacts.
Specifically, she cited changes to Alaska’s iconic Iditorod dog sled race:
“In the Norton Sound area, where the teams will usually cross the frozen ocean, it makes for a very exciting but grueling trek because of the winds that are out there; well now that is open water, they have had to reroute the race to hug the shoreline.”
Speaking of dog sled races, such testimony serves as a sign to the business community that they are in a dogfight against time. The cost of lost fisheries, price of relocated communities as well as the loss of real estate due to rising sea levels will be insurmountable in the long run if they are not addressed now.
Senator Murkowski has provided the business community another opportunity to make the economic argument for climate change. It is up to these leaders to amplify their voices, if the Republican Senate will ever listen.
Image credit: Frostnip907/Flickr
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.