Republican debate: where's climate change?

I didn't watch the Republican debate last night, so I can't be sure that climate change got short shift, but seeing as I couldn't find more than a hint of the subject in this morning's coverage on the net -- and heard only a passing reference in a NPR report listing the "other" subjects addressed -- I feel pretty safe concluding that the candidates assume the planet's future, and that of civilization, isn't of particularly interest to GOP voters. No surprise there. The question is, is this a bad thing, or good?

I used to bemoan the right-wing's antipathy to global warming in particular, and environmental issues in general. But perhaps my angst is unwarranted. Let's turn the question around. As we enter history's longest presidential campaign, is the absence of a bipartisan consensus on climate change good or bad?

If the content of the national conversation is determined by the news media, and media coverage is driven largely by conflict, and consensus is anathema to conflict, then bipartisan agreement is the last thing we need.

Of course, if the consensus was that climate change is a clear and present danger to society, then there's be no problem. But it isn't. Even Democrats aren't of one mind on how high up the priority list they should put reducing greehouse gas emissions. As for the Republicans, it would seem they are getting less interested, not more. Just a few weeks ago came a poll of federal lawmakers with some astounding numbers and an even more incredible trend:

Only 13 percent of congressional Republicans say they believe that human activity is causing global warming, compared to 95 percent of congressional Democrats. Moreover, the number of Republicans who believe in human-induced global warming has actually dropped since April 2006, when the number was 23 percent.

This explains why candidates for the GOP nomination wouldn't feel compelled to include climate change in their nine-minute share of last night's 90-minute debate. It's not that they're necessarily stupid, it's just that they're more interesting in pandering than leading.

Some degree of caution should accompany interpreting these polls. The latest one involved just 133 lawmakers, barely a quarter the Hill's 435. But it's still indicative of a highly polarized Congress. And it suggests that those would have us believe climate change is a bipartisan issue are fooling themselves. Against such data, an op-ed essay by Floyd J. McKay, a journalism professor emeritus at Western Washington University, in the Seattle Times two days ago seems naive:

We simply must get beyond that sort of knee-jerk partisanship if we are to deal with climate change. It cannot be a Republican-Democrat divide; all citizens are equally affected.

Can we exploit this polarization? Can the Democrats draw on it, and tear themselves away from beating up on the Bush administration's handling of Iraq to focus the public attention, every now and then, on how we're going to steer this mighty ship of state away from the precipice of a runaway greenhouse effect?

That sounds like a tall order. But just think how hard it would be if every mention of global warming during this campaign was met only with "I agree." That might sound like victory, but given the weak understanding of the challenges posed by a rapidly warming planet now evident among the most environmentally aware candidates, it would actually be a recipe for disaster.

We're simply not ready to stop arguing. Instead, this campaign should be an opportunity to increase awareness and understanding of the nature of the threat, and to build the resolve to do something about it. And to that end, it's good that the Republicans are so clueless.


More like this

Barring a miraculous revival of the fortunes of Jon Huntsman, Republicans this year will, for the first time, elect a presidential nominee who does not believe that humans are responsible for global warming. How did things get this bad? The Climate Desk team found a few of the last Republicans…
Every now and then, I hear someone giving the Republican Party credit for finally starting to get on board with 20th (or even 19th) century science, and 21st century eyeballs, to accept the idea of climate change. That is annoying whenever it happens because it simply isn't ever true and never will…
Over at the Huffington Post, David Roberts concedes my point about why the Pandora's Box frame of looming catastrophe may not be the best way to communicate the urgency of climate change. Yet he disagrees that environmental advocates should be concerned about opening themselves up to claims of "…
Another global warming PSA produced by Environmental Defense in conjunction with the Ad Council. Is this a message that resonates with the readers? I expect what's alarmist to some will be poignant to others. But what I can say with certainty is that climate change will be a paramount issue in…

While you didn't get climate change, we got to see that three of the Republicans were openly creationists. Ummm, so what do we expect when climate change is discussed? Yeah...exactly.

I'm not too worried about the early posturing away from the issue by the R's. As Friedman had an Aussie MP pointing out today ( there seem to be two diverging conservatives. The do-nothings like Bush and Howard (the Aussie PM) and the pragmatic up-coming conservatives like Schwarzenegger and David Cameron of Britain who are taking on the issue because they see an opening to beat the more liberal politicos to it. The R's in the race who have any real chance (Rudy, Romney and McCain; at least right now but it is a long slog) are all very pragmatic conservatives who will agree once the primary season is over that it's a serious issue, and unlike Bush they'll actually move on it if elected. Even Brownback is a pro-science sleeper (though I know people find that hard to believe with his anti stem cell stance, but I saw him in action when he chaired a Senate science subcommittee) and Newt is the most pro-technology/science guy of the bunch if he gets in.