- Some Republicans are starting to come around and push for policies to address climate change.
- But many in the GOP still deny that climate change is a threat and dismiss attempts to address the crisis.
- Republicans who recognize the danger of climate change should stand up to their denialist colleagues so Congress can get something done.
- Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Arizona) is chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-California) is chair of the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
In August 1988, during his successful campaign for the presidency, George H.W. Bush promised a cheering crowd of Republican voters in Michigan that his first year in office would feature "a global conference on the environment at the White House."
He vowed to invite the Chinese, Soviets, and emerging nations to talks on "global warming, saving our oceans and preventing the loss of tropical forests."
Most important, Bush said, "We will act."
It’s hard to picture the Trump administration making that promise now, but it reminds us that bipartisan climate action wasn’t always considered out of reach.
Before the Tea Party seized control of Congress and President Donald Trump put climate deniers in charge of the federal government, it was not uncommon for Republicans with national standing — including Sens. John Warner and Dick Lugar along with Govs. Christine Todd Whitman and Arnold Schwarzenegger — to acknowledge the American imperative to lead on climate change.
The fact that previous calls to action were ignored makes today’s need for bold climate policy only more acute. That’s why it’s heartening to see a small but growing faction in the Republican Party speaking out on the reality of the crisis we face.
They’re still struggling to identify actions they can support because our most critical imperative — transitioning away from fossil fuels to a clean-energy economy — is anathema to the fossil-fuel interests that dominate their party.
But the increasing focus on climate change by voters across the political spectrum and the breadth and seriousness of Democratic climate proposals are forcing our colleagues across the aisle to make the overdue pivot from denialism to discussion.
Unfortunately, the power and position of leading Republican climate deniers in Congress has made real change impossible.
Regardless of their politics, anyone concerned about the resource scarcity, heat waves, more dramatic storms and droughts, and the other effects we know are already here — and we know will get worse unless we act now — needs to stand up to the denialists and demand they change their tune or get out of the way.
Old-school denial was on particularly stark display at a hearing we held in May in the House Natural Resources Committee on an issue that truly shouldn’t be political: the risk of mass extinctions in the age of climate change.
The event was a perfect opportunity to work together. We convened the hearing to examine policy responses to an alarming report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, a United Nations-affiliated research group. Experts there found that up to 1 million species are at serious risk of extinction because of climate change and other human effects on the natural world.
We invited several of the world’s leading scientists to testify, including Sir Robert Watson, former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. He summed up the far-reaching effects of extinction and the need for all of us to act: "The loss of biodiversity is not only an environmental issue, but an economic, development, social, security, moral and ethical issue."
We hoped our GOP colleagues would join us in a serious science-based discussion on solutions. Instead, they invited two professional climate deniers to testify, one of whom, Marc Morano, runs an industry-funded, anti-science pressure group and has been a repeat guest on the notorious conspiracy-focused "InfoWars" radio show.
Typical of their bombast was Morano’s opening statement, where he accused the authors of the biodiversity report — world-renowned scientists sitting next to him at the witness table — of being "leaders of the UN’s bastardization of species-endangerment science."
Our GOP colleagues on the committee struck the same tone. Rep. Tom McClintock, the panel’s top Republican, stated that "carbon dioxide levels have varied widely throughout the planet’s history, including periods when they were many times higher than today."
This claim, presented as a dismissal of the urgency to act, only reinforces how pressing the climate crisis really is. When Earth’s carbon dioxide levels were that much higher, modern humans had not yet evolved to live on this planet. Our species has never experienced an atmosphere like the one we’re creating.
The fact that these kinds of statements, at a hearing of such magnitude, were not even deemed newsworthy speaks to how deeply anti-science thinking is ingrained on the political right. We hope our Republican colleagues on the Committee take note that elsewhere in this same Congress, Republicans are speaking more thoughtfully.
Rep. Mike Simpson, a Republican from Idaho and a leading conservative on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, offered a remarkably blunt assessment at an event back home earlier this year: "Climate change is a reality. It’s not hard to figure out. Go look at your thermometer."
As one environmental news outlet reported at the time, Simpson "knew he might hear a record scratch when he broke out of the well-worn Republican grooves," but he felt comfortable going on the record anyway.
He’s far from alone. GOP Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, made news when he acknowledged that while droughts and heat waves come and go, "climate change has intensified their impacts. … [O]ur communities, like the farmers and ranchers in my district, need to know more about the extent to which a changing climate affects short- and long-term weather patterns."
Republicans like Simpson and Lucas understand that denial is increasingly untenable. It’s a form of willful ignorance that will ultimately hurt all of us. The question is what they’re prepared to do about it. They need to win the battle for Republican hearts and minds, not just in their districts but in the Congress, and that fight needs to begin in earnest.
In a world where 73% of young voters reject Trump’s handling of climate change, Trump-style eye-rolling at anyone who takes environmental quality seriously is not a sustainable platform. Pretending otherwise does the Republican Party, and our country, no favors.
We would love to work on a broadly bipartisan response to the climate crisis. But that depends on whether climate deniers and the fossil-fuel industry continue to call the shots for congressional Republicans. Change is coming. The question is who will drive that change, and whose ideas voters will be compelled to take seriously.
Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Arizona) is chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-California) is chair of the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife.
NOW WATCH: 7 lesser-known benefits of Amazon Prime
- Tesla needs to redesign the Model S sedan — here are 9 changes I’d like to see
- Forget carmageddon — personal cars aren’t going anywhere anytime soon
- The FTC’s $5 billion fine for Facebook shows that the government can crack down on tech companies without crushing them