Theodore Roosevelt, referring to the preservation of our nation's abundant natural resources, once said that "conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation." Today Roosevelt's words could apply in equal measure to climate change, aka global warming, which threatens our nation's safety by making extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy more dangerous and destructive.
Roosevelt is perhaps our party's most noted environmental champion, but other Republican presidents also made significant contributions to the health of our planet and its inhabitants. Richard Nixon gave us the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency. George H.W. Bush achieved a large-scale cap-and-trade program to address emissions that cause acid rain, and signed into law the Production Tax Credit for wind energy, which has been crucial to growing our clean energy economy - but will expire at the end of this year without significant Republican support.
Then there's Ronald Reagan, who unlike many who profess to be his followers, acknowledged environmental problems and sought solutions to them. Reagan notably embraced scientific findings about the health risks posed by ozone-depleting chemicals, and spurred the United States and the world to phase these chemicals out by adopting the Montreal Protocol.
Recent public opinion data suggests that a return to these Republican environmental roots would also benefit the GOP at the ballot box.
As Republicans ponder how to broaden our appeal to Hispanics, women, and young voters, party leaders and strategists would be wise to take note of a recent Zogby Analytics poll, which found that these demographic groups are among those most concerned with confronting climate change. According to the poll, 75 percent of Hispanics, 65 percent of women, and 65 percent of voters between 25 and 34 years old are concerned that climate change is adding to the severity of recent extreme weather like Hurricane Sandy.
The Zogby poll also found that voters by a 3-1 margin believe that the government is not doing enough to protect our air and water from toxic pollution, but that most independents are not sure which party they trust more to handle the issue. As John Zogby himself put it, these are voters who are "up for grabs."
When I was the chairman of the House Committee on Science, Democrats and Republicans on our panel looked to the scientific community for expertise on many important issues. We did not seek to discredit the experts because we didn't like their findings.
There is nothing wrong with having a vigorous debate over the proper policy prescriptions for addressing climate change, toxic emissions, and other environmental concerns. But members of our party must stop sticking their heads in the sand and denying that these problems even exist, or worse, disparaging the scientists who conduct research on them.
The sooner our party heeds the warnings from responsible scientists and gets serious about these kinds of environmental challenges, the sooner we can begin to address our electoral ones.
Boehlert, a former Congressman from New York, serves on the board of the League of Conservation Voters.