The GOP Backlash to Climate-Change Deniers Begins Now


When I was 18 I registered to vote. The choice was easy at the time: Republican. Though liberal on social issues, I prioritized national security, leaned toward free market policies (this was before the 2008 financial crisis), and I was a proponent of the environment. In our current political environment that last part may seem odd, but it is sometimes forgotten that it was Richard Nixon that signed off on the Clean Air and Water Acts, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher spearheaded the Montreal Protocol, and George H.W. Bush had introduced a market based system that has been effective at tackling acid rain.  I would only get to vote as a Republican twice. In 2009, the Tea Party and a fierce opposition to any action whatsoever on the cardinal issue of environmental protection (climate change), took over the Republican Party. I would change my registration to independent that December.  

Climate change as an issue has become immensely divisive. This has been particularly dangerous to Republicans who believe the science on the issue. There is, however, a movement within the party to change this. Heads of the EPA under Nixon, Reagan, and both Bush administrations recently made the Republican case for climate action. Discussing how their Republican principles enabled them to take on difficult issues like acid rain, they voiced their support for Obama’s recent action plan and a market-based approach such as a carbon tax. They did not pull any punches in making the case to their party that climate change is real, caused by humans, and that we need to do something about it. They made it clear that while they supported Obama’s plan, much more would have to be done on the issue. As Phil Plait notes, climate op-eds as of late tend to be more opinionated then factually sound. This makes this new call to action all the more pertinent. These people know what they are talking about, and they want their party to get on board.

They are not alone. Former Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, who famously had his campaign sunk over a tweet, has called for action on climate change. He even endorsed the growing fossil fuel divestment movement. As governor of Utah, Huntsman worked to increase energy efficiency and saw the state join the Western Climate Initiative. Former U.S. Representative Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) has also been hard at work at trying to change his party's tune on climate change. He now, along with with Art Laffer (former economic adviser to Reagan), heads up the Energy and Enterprise initiative. The McCain family, Lindsay Graham (though admittedly he has flip-flopped on the issue of action), and Scott Brown have all broken with the climate-denial trend within the party. This brings hope that a bipartisan deal may at some point reappear.

Extreme elements within the GOP have unfortunately turned previously bipartisan issues such as having a clean environment in which to live, or protecting biodiversity, into difficult struggles. By making climate change (which affects national security, agriculture, and health among many other issues) partisan, they have initiated something dangerous. Godspeed to those working to change their party from the inside on this issue. We need them.