LAS VEGAS, NV – DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidates (L-R) Ben Carson, Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz stand on stage during the CNN presidential debate at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Thirteen Republican presidential candidates are participating in the fifth set of Republican presidential debates. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
These questions are worth asking because on an issue so vital to our safety and our future, the American people deserve a thoughtful debate between the two major political parties. Voters deserve it, but they are not getting it.
Let’s step back a moment and assess the situation. Climate change is no longer a scientific theory or a scenario cranked out by computer models. It is killing people and destroying property in the United States as well as worldwide.
It is not just another issue that shows up near the bottom of public concerns. It is a threshold issue in this election because it heavily impacts so many other things the American people consider important, from economic stability to public health and from federal spending to terrorism. Climate change is a far-reaching multi-tasking clear-and-present threat. Everything we do to reduce the risks of global warming also reduces the risks to many other critical parts of our lives.
Although how we deal with global warming is still a matter for discussion, the fact that we must do something is not. While U.S. negotiators were in Paris working on an international climate agreement last month, and while Republican leaders in Congress were working hard to undermine them, the weather caused more than $4 billion in economic losses and killed at least 64 Americans across the Midwest, Great Plains, Rocky Mountain, Southeast and Northeast regions of the country.
While presidential candidates were throwing their hats in the ring last year, the United States suffered 10 extreme weather and climate events that killed 155 people and caused damages of more than $1 billion per event. Last week, 2015 ended as the second-hottest year since people began measuring these things and the 19th year in a row that temperatures were higher than average.
The extreme weather in recent decades validates 30 years of research by the world’s climate scientists. Yet leading Republicans in Congress and the presidential race remain loyal to the “denial industry” – the organized efforts by vested interests to discredit the science and prevent a government response.
There are conservative options for confronting the risks and realities of climate change. Many of them could be preferable to and more effective than government regulations and other market interventions. The American people deserve to hear about them and to see them tested in thoughtful debate. Instead, we are hearing incredibly immature, ill-informed and even paranoid positions from the GOP’s front-runners. For example:
When President Obama said that climate change is a more serious long-term threat than terrorism, Carly Fiorina called the president “delusional” and Donald Trump said it was one of the “dumbest things” ever said. In effect, Trump and Fiorina have declared that our most experienced military and intelligence officials don’t know what they’re talking about. Obama was merely echoing the experts’ conclusions. It was not terrorists that just destroyed hundreds of homes along the Mississippi River, or set fire to the Pacific Coast last summer, or flash-flooded Texas and Oklahoma last May, killing more than 30.
Ted Cruz says climate change is an excuse that “power hungry politicians” are using to control the lives of the American people. But one of the principal complaints from conservatives – the EPA’s attempt to regulate carbon pollution from power plants – is not a power grab. It is the result of Congress’s failure to approve a more conservative market-based solution to climate-damaging emissions.
Marco Rubio warns that the “left wing government” is trying to “destroy our economy” — a ridiculous argument on its face, but also part of the conservative gospel that switching from fossil fuels to clean energy will kill jobs. Experience is proving otherwise. For example, a study just issued by two national laboratories has found that the renewable energy requirements in 29 states and the District of Columbia supported nearly 200,000 jobs in 2013, contributed more than $20 billion to the GDP in those states and produced more than $5 billion in environmental and public health benefits.
Ben Carson has said that global warming is being used as “an excuse not to develop our God-given resources”. But one of the principal ways to combat global warming is to use our God-given energy from sunlight, wind and plants. Not all natural resources are equal. It was either God, Mother Nature or both who wisely buried carbon deep underground eons ago. We have dug it up and burned it at the expense of other God-given natural resources. Forests, coral reefs and countless plant and animal species are among the resources dying as a result.
So we come back to some of the more important curiosities of this campaign season: Why are rational Republicans allowing sophistry and stupidity to ruin their Party’s credibility? Why does the Party persist in making climate change a Republican versus Democrat issue when it is actually a Far Right versus the rest of the country issue? Why should even that split exist?
Why are the Party’s leading candidates for Congress and the White House so out of step with the voters within their own party? Where in this race are experienced and rational Republicans like Bob Inglis, Christie Todd Whitman, John Huntsman and Bill Reilly, or the Party’s next-generation leaders like Jay Faison?
Fortunately, these lingering questions are secondary to one unquestionable fact this year. It makes our decisions in the voting booth very simple. Any candidate who jeopardizes the health, safety and future of the American people by refusing to support climate action is unfit for public office. Period.