Republicans must come to the table on common-sense climate policy
This summer, there have been record temperatures almost everywhere in the world. London experienced the highest temperature ever recorded in the city, and Southern Europe is so hot it is literally burning. Many U.S. cities are witnessing extended periods of triple-digit temperatures. These events have clearly been exacerbated by climate change and should serve as a wake-up call to those who doubt climate change as a true challenge.
Amidst all this, the discourse between Republicans and Democrats on advancing even modest climate policy, like tax incentives to accelerate the adoption of renewable technologies, has become an ever-widening chasm. Ahead of the 2022 midterms, Republican leadership is seizing a unique opportunity to frame the Democratic Party as a group of extremists using climate as a way to tax oil and gas out of existence and raise not only energy prices, but inflation as well. With the passage of the recent Inflation Reduction Act, some prominent Republicans even compared the climate portions to the extreme Green New Deal.
To be fair, Republicans have made important points around energy security amid the war in Ukraine. European dependence on Russian gas is a reality check that the world is not ready yet to eliminate hydrocarbons as some progressives would have us believe. Oil and gas — and yes, even nuclear energy — will be critical parts of our energy portfolio for years to come. Even Europe, which does not suffer from the political discourse we have in the U.S. around climate policy and has been highly supportive of renewable alternatives, cannot manage alone on green technologies for years to come. However, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t invest in a clean energy future.
Europe and the UK are making admirable efforts to rapidly advance wind, solar and vehicle electrification to cut CO2 emissions by over 50 percent over the next decade. Importantly, in most European countries, the conservative parties are on board with the transition to clean energy and have a sense of urgency to get there as quickly as possible.
Here in the U.S., on the other hand, we still struggle to achieve bipartisan climate wins. Yet, the potential costs of climate change to our quality of life and that of our children and to society more broadly are too great to continue to treat climate as a political game. Republican leadership must strike a balance of achieving energy security in the short term while aggressively supporting and advancing smart climate policy.
As a Republican and an environmentalist, I continue to be disappointed and frustrated with my party’s sarcastic tone on climate, and I am not alone. Young voters, aged 18 to 35, are becoming one of the largest voting blocs in the country, and the Republican Party risks permanently alienating them if climate continues to stay on the backburner. As these young voters start to become more active politically, Republican leadership needs to figure out the calculus here pretty quickly or find the math will not add up well for future elections.
Neither Republicans nor Democrats want to live in a world where the environment has become inhospitable as a result of extreme temperatures and frequent fires, droughts and hurricanes. Ironically, those who live in red states in the South and West have the most to lose from the effects of climate change. It’s time for Republicans in those states and across the country to stop being obstructionists and lead on climate — before it’s too late to put out the fire.
Gary Rappeport is on the board of both the Environmental Defense Fund Action and the American Conservation Coalition.
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