Democrats have good reasons to be optimistic about 2020. But the moment a party or politician believes they own something is the moment they start to lose it. In politics, complacency leads to hubris, hubris leads to pandering and pandering leads to a realignment driven by the forgotten and marginalized. As unlikely as it seems, 2020 could be the year Democrats start to lose an issue they believe they own: climate change and the environment.
Democrats have created an opening Republicans should not ignore. The left’s marquee proposal — the Green New Deal — aspires to communicate earnest devotion but is profoundly unserious. Its goals, scope, provisions, and costs are outlandish. The plan is a transparent attempt to use concerns about our planet to reshape our politics. The two non-climate related provisions of the GND — "Medicare for All" and guaranteed jobs for all — would dwarf the UN’s worst-case climate change cost projections ($69 trillion) for this century.
The GND also makes a mockery of itself by not delivering results. If the plan were enacted it would do almost nothing to reduce global temperatures, all while imposing a draconian carbon lockdown on our country as we struggle to recover from a pandemic. The GND would devastate the middle class and minority communities it purports to help.
Even worse, the new faces of the Democratic party, like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOn The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Pelosi plows full speed ahead on jam-packed agenda Photos of the Week: Renewable energy, gymnast testimonies and a Met Gala dress Ocasio-Cortez, Bush push to add expanded unemployment in .5T spending plan MORE (D-N.Y.), the architect of the GND actually said, "The world is going to end in 12 years if we don't address climate change." In the Democratic primary, presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke were only slightly less unscientific. Buttigieg tried to put a reasonable spin on alarmism when he said, "Science tells us we have 12 years before we reach the horizon of our catastrophe when it comes to our climate."
But "the science" is saying no such thing.
In a stunning rebuke of climate alarmism, respected climate journalist Michael Shellenberger writes, "There is good evidence that the catastrophist framing of climate change is self-defeating because it alienates and polarizes many people. And exaggerating climate change risks distracting us from other important issues including ones we might have more near-term control over."
In his new book, "Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All" Shellenberger builds his case: "Curiously, the people who are the most alarmist about the problems also tend to oppose the obvious solutions."
Some of the nation’s top climate scientists share this critique. MIT’s Kerry Emanuel is perplexed that the environmental movement is "steadfastly working against nuclear power, the one green energy source whose implementation could feasibly avoid the worst climate risks."
The House Democrats’ latest climate plan, which is an incremental step toward the GND, again ignores obvious solutions. The plan does little to address nuclear energy and potential areas of bipartisan consensus. If "the climate crisis is the essential crisis of our time," as House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiRepublicans caught in California's recall trap Raise the debt limit while starting to fix the budget 'Justice for J6' organizer calls on demonstrators to respect law enforcement MORE (D-Calif.) argued, why delay the inevitable and hard work of compromise?
Conservatives are now the voice of reason in the climate debate. When President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE plainly said climate change is "not a hoax" he faced no backlash on the right because conservatives, by and large, agree with him. It was progressives who found his acknowledgment politically inconvenient.
This does not mean conservatives believe the science is settled and the debate is over. Far from it. I’ve long been and continue to be skeptic when it comes to assessing the human impacts on climate but there is no dissonance in being skeptical and promoting good stewardship at the same time.
Conservatives, particularly people of faith, have always taken environmental stewardship seriously. Progressives might be surprised to know I work with an international company that recycles and converts waste into energy. I even tend bees on my own land. Millions of other conservatives who don’t fit the profile of a virtue-signaling environmentalist are similarly committed to leaving the planet better off than we found it and practice stewardship in our personal and professional lives.
Republicans have an opportunity in 2020 to flip the script and appeal to younger voters who want the results the GND is incapable of delivering. Time-tested conservative principles like promoting innovation, empowering entrepreneurs, and lowering regulatory barriers are the best ways to deploy new technologies that will create a healthy natural and economic environment. These principles, not top-down and heavy-handed government intervention, unleashed the fracking revolution that dramatically cut emissions in my home state of Pennsylvania and the entire country.
Republicans lawmakers and the Trump administration are proposing solutions on multiple fronts. For instance, Republicans want to reform the outdated National Environmental Policy Act that slows the deployment of clean energy technologies, including nuclear. Republicans have proposed allowing full expensing of research and development in the tax code and are enlisting farmers and ranchers, who don’t need stewardship lectures, in emissions reduction strategies.
Progressives who feel like they own this issue may be in for a rude awakening. This change may not happen in 2020 but, sooner or later, their own base will realize that alarmism is no substitute for answers. Conservatives are ready to act now. Smart and serious Democrats would be wise to join them.
Rick Santorum, a former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, is an advisor to the Conservative Coalition for Climate Solutions (C3 Solutions).