One result of Donald Trump pulling the country out of the Paris agreement on climate change is Republicans are starting to explain their positions on the matter. Trump’s move made apparent to everyone that virtually no other country or world leader expresses any doubt about climate change, its causes and its effects. The only people who do are conservative politicians in America. After years of outright denial and skepticism, Republicans seem to be slowly coming around.
In an article for CNN, former Hill staffer Doug Heye, a graduate of UNC-CH, tries to explain why Republicans don’t talk, or think, much about climate change. After years of what they consider environmental alarmism, Republicans don’t believe the threats are real and they don’t like the remedies. As Heye, says, “They feel that they’ve suffered through decades of over-the-top Malthusian doomsday predictions from Paul Ehrlich, Rachel Carson and even Ted Danson, about dying oceans, global starvation and the like. And the solution is always the same — restrictions on businesses and energy production.”
I’ll grant that alarmism is a problem for the environmental community but Heye’s piece reads like an excuse for keeping his head in the sand. In fact, most of Rachel Carson’s warnings were valid. DDT was threatening extinction of the bald eagle and numerous other species. Lake Erie was declared “dead” because excessive pollution killed off most native species of fish and plant life. Rivers in the upper Midwest caught fire. The Great Barrier Reef is dying due to warming sea water. Sea level is actually rising because of melting glaciers and ice sheets in Antarctica and the Arctic. In North Carolina, our estuaries were threatened and large-scale fish kills in the Neuse and other rivers were increasingly common. In the mountains, acid rain destroyed all the trees at higher elevations and smog blocked mountain views along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Without some alarmism, would anybody address these issues at all?
Heye’s right. The solutions to all of these problems were, and probably are, more regulations and restrictions. However, no Republicans ever offer any alternative. Instead, they steadfastly deny the damage or, in the case of climate change, the problem itself. And they’ve resisted the market-based solutions like cap-and-trade that they claim to prefer.
Another conservative columnist, Ross Douthat of the New York Times argues similarly that, while he acknowledges climate change is a problem, the apocalyptic predictions are wrong. Douthat, though, admits two problems Republicans have: cherry-picking data to defend their position and failing to come up with any solutions to offer in the debate. It’s a broader symptom of a party that opposes everything and supports little, making governing difficult (see repeal-and-replace).
Finally, Peder Zane in the News & Observer argues that we have personal obligations and choices that can combat the causes of climate change. If we see climate change as an existential threat, then we should moderate our personal behavior to combat it because “the only thing any of us can truly control is ourselves; the most valuable thing we have is our conscience.” Heye also alludes to this when he criticizes liberals who make dire predictions yet do little to reduce their own carbon footprint.
I read these articles as evidence the conservatives are, grudgingly, coming around on climate change. All three writers feel the need to explain the Republican response, or lack of one, to climate change. While they make excuses for inaction, they’re also offering the beginnings of a conservative approach, even if it’s still fuzzy. One thing is clear, though, none of them want to hear the dire predictions of environmentalists. In other words, don’t tell them, “I told you so.”