GOP’s baby steps on climate change


No one expects Republicans to embrace the ideas that are needed to slow global warming and limit the harm to the planet. But there are a few glimmers of hope.

A story in Politico reports that a North Carolina Republican businessman, Jay Faison, will spend $175 million of his own money to nudge his party away from the dark side on the issue of climate change.

“The aim is to get the Republican Party to shift its skeptical view of climate change and green energy, topics that usually fall to the bottom of its list of priorities when they don’t generate outright opposition among conservative voters,” the Politico story says.

Faison, a conservative Christian with strong GOP credentials, made a fortune when he sold his audio-visual equipment company, SnapAV. He will pour $165 million into a public education campaign through his ClearPath Foundation. ClearPath is a Republican group Faison founded in December that has partnered with government agencies such as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as National Geographic, the Rocky Mountain Institute, and Climate Central. ClearPath’s mission is to “empower people with information to take action that will accelerate a clean energy future and make America stronger and more prosperous.” It pushes clean energy solutions in wind, solar, hydro, and nuclear power.

You’ll notice the glaring omission on the government partnership list — no EPA. Faison wants answers to come from the market, not regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency. Of course, without the EPA — passed in the Republican administration of President Richard Nixon — our air, water, and land would be a lot dirtier than it is. Let’s see a show of hands on who thinks Congress would establish an EPA today.

Yet Faison remains optimistic. He wants Republicans to “debate the solutions to climate change, not the science,” according to the Politico story. Faison plans to spend $40 million through 2016 and will put another $10 million into a separate political advocacy operation, using a nonprofit tax status like other political groups. He hopes to attract more money into that organization.

There are a few other Republican groups trying to change people’s minds on the climate issue. According to a story in Forbes, other GOP organizations, such as ConservAmerica and, “are slowly creating the sort of space where Republicans can comfortably and publicly discuss various paths forward on an issue of vital importance to everyone.” The story also notes polls suggesting that “more than 60 percent of young Republican voters support government limits on greenhouse gas emissions — even if it meant raising their own monthly energy expenses by $20 each month.”

Whatever Faison, ClearPath, and the other groups hope to achieve, It will be an uphill fight. Of the announced and unannounced GOP presidential candidates, only Sen. Lindsey Graham and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have acknowledged mankind’s effect on worldwide climate, although Bush is quick to add that it is “arrogant” to think that climate science is settled. Actually, it’s arrogant to spread that particular kind of idiocy, since 97 percent of scientists worldwide believe climate change is caused by humans. (Faison has already donated to both Graham and Bush but says he’s keeping his options open.)

Others sound even sillier. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is taking heat for criticizing Pope Francis for speaking out on global warming. “We’re probably better off leaving science to the scientists,” Santorum said. While he’s not a working scientist, being the pontiff and all, Pope Francis does have a degree in chemistry — more expertise than Santorum.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio also thinks that Americans should resist federal efforts to curb carbon emissions, telling ABC News that such programs would be “against God’s Will,” since “for all we know, God wants the Earth to get warmer.” Tell that to the Californians restricting water in a multi-year drought or to the families of the hundreds of people who have died in a massive heat wave in India. It’s just easier to worship at the church of Koch.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has perhaps the dumbest idea of all. He thinks all of the EPA’s functions should be shifted to the states. If you thought conditions in Texas were bad because of the lack of state environmental regulations, they would be worse if left solely to the Texas Legislature.

Nor should we expect any clear thinking — whether it’s on a ClearPath or not — from the Republican Congress. A New York Times editorial fears a GOP counterattack on President Obama’s planned proposals on clean water, clean air, and natural resources. “The usual complaints about ‘executive overreach’ and ‘job-killing regulations’ have been raised,” the editorial says. “But beneath all the political sound bites lies a deep-seated if unspoken grievance that Mr. Obama is actually trying to realize the promise of laws that Congress passed years ago but wouldn’t stand a chance with today’s Congress.”

But we may be seeing a dent in the climate change denial firewall. In a piece in RollCall, James Dozier, the executive director of Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, says he thinks that at least some Republicans are ready. “The fact is that in the early primary states there is a sizable cohort of the GOP primary electorate that is tired of ceding the issue of environmental sustainability to liberals,” he writes.


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