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“Congratulations Republicans!”: On Climate Change, Republicans Are Truly Exceptional

Speaking at the climate conference in Paris today, President Obama noted a way in which America is different from all other nations. Around the world, he said, concern about climate change “spans political parties.” Said Obama:

“I mean, you travel around Europe and you talk to leaders of governments and the opposition, and they are arguing about a whole bunch of things. One thing they’re not arguing about is whether the science of climate change is real and whether or not we’re going to have to do something about it.”

Nowhere else among the world’s major nations (and maybe the minor nations, too, though I don’t claim to be familiar with all 200 of them) is there a political party representing half the electorate which is adamantly opposed to doing anything to address climate change. So congratulations, Republicans: you have made America truly exceptional.

It’s important to note, however, that there is diversity of opinion within the GOP on this issue — to a point. At one end you have the denialists, who believe that climate change is not occurring at all. The people who believe this also tend to believe that the fact that it still snows in the winter constitutes proof that climate change isn’t happening, which shows the intellectual rigor they bring to this question. This group includes not only the notorious Sen. James Inhofe and a gaggle of less prominent congressional knuckleheads, but also presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee.

At the other end you have a few lonely Republican voices saying that climate change is a real problem that we should do something to address. Included in their number are two of the presidential candidates, Lindsey Graham and George Pataki. But the broad majority of the party’s elected officials fall into what we might call the uncertainty caucus. When you ask them whether climate change is happening, they say, “Maybe, sure, who knows?” Is it caused by human activity? “It’s possible, could be, how can we say for sure?” What should government do about it? “Absolutely nothing.” So while they might not sound as deranged as the denialists, their policy prescription is the same.

And while their argument in the past has always been that we can’t confront climate change because moving away from fossil fuels would destroy the economy, they’ve shifted their focus in recent weeks. Now when you ask the GOP presidential candidates about the issue, the response you’ll get is more likely to be, “How can we worry about climate change when ISIS is about to kill us all!!!” This is how the candidates have responded not just to President Obama’s belief in the seriousness of climate change, but to his mere attendance at the Paris conference, as if he should have instead stayed home to spend his time filling Americans with fear of terrorism.

“This is the president once again living in his fantasy world rather than the world as it actually is,” said Chris Christie with his characteristic contempt. “He really believes that folks are worried about climate change when what they really care about now is the Islamic State and Syria and terrorism.” Marco Rubio brought his perspective: “Let me just say no matter how you feel about the issue of the environment and climate and changes to climate, there’s no way any reasonable person could conclude that the most immediate threat we face to our security is what the climate is going to look like in 25 or 30 years.”

It’s easy to believe that terrorism is a greater threat to Americans than climate change, because everyone can conjure up a vivid and terrifying image of what terrorism looks like. And though there’s always the possibility that a future terrorist attack could kill large numbers of Americans, the actual number of Americans killed here at home by jihadi terrorists since 9/11 stands at 26, which, as I keep saying, also happens to be exactly the number of Americans killed this year alone by lightning strikes.

The deaths caused by climate change, on the other hand, are complicated to estimate with precision, don’t show up in YouTube videos, and don’t have the kind of dramatic violence that gets presidential candidates thumping their lecterns. But those deaths are real nonetheless. According to a 2012 report commissioned by the governments of 20 nations, climate change kills 400,000 people a year worldwide, mostly through hunger and the spread of communicable diseases. The World Health Organization estimates: “Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.”

You might say, well, that’s obviously terrible, but it really isn’t about national security. But the Department of Defense, not exactly a place where you find a lot of tree-hugging hippies, would beg to differ. Here’s how they described a recent report they produced on the topic:

The report reinforces the fact that global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests over the foreseeable future because it will aggravate existing problems such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions that threaten domestic stability in a number of countries.

The report finds that climate change is a security risk because it degrades living conditions, human security, and the ability of governments to meet the basic needs of their populations. Communities and states that are already fragile and have limited resources are significantly more vulnerable to disruption and far less likely to respond effectively and be resilient to new challenges.

In other words, climate change will produce the contexts in which threats to U.S. national security will fester and grow, which is just one of the reasons that the Republican policy position — do nothing — is so dangerous.

But here’s an interesting thing about that position: not only have they failed to persuade the American public that they’re right, they haven’t even persuaded their own voters. According to a new New York Times/CBS poll, not only does two-thirds of the public overall support the U.S. joining an international treaty to reduce carbon emissions — something that almost every Republican elected official vehemently opposes — but a healthy 42 percent of Republican voters support it as well, with 52 percent opposed. And a majority of Republicans said they’d support a policy to limit carbon emissions from power plants. That’s what President Obama’s Clean Power Plan does, and Republicans in Congress are desperately trying to kill it.

The rightward drift of the GOP during the Obama years is a complex story, with many different causes and effects. There are issues on which the party’s voters have gone right along with its leaders, producing a mass consensus that mirrors the elite consensus. But on climate change, it appears that the politicians’ ability to persuade their voters has been incomplete at best. Not that that means the politicians are going to change any time soon.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, December 1, 2015

December 4, 2015 Posted by | Climate Change, Climate Science, Paris Climate Conference | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Congress Largely On The Sidelines For Paris Deal”: Mitch McConnell Is Powerless To Block Obama’s Climate Change Deal

One of the few times countries around the world have reached a climate change deal to cut global greenhouse gasses was the 1997 Kyoto treaty, which required binding cuts from industrialized nations. Top Republicans told the press it was “dead on arrival” and would never gain approval from the Senate. And that was, more or less, the end of Kyoto—other countries pointed to the U.S. never ratifying it as reason enough to ignore their own commitments.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has now pledged to kill the latest emerging global consensus to act on climate change. His strategy is to obstruct a deal at the next major conference in Paris at the end of the year. As Politico reported earlier this week, congressional Republicans have returned from their August recess with every intention of derailing a deal long before we get to December. An aide to McConnell is reaching out to foreign embassies to detail how the GOP-controlled Congress plans to stop President Obama’s climate plan from moving forward.

But this won’t be another Kyoto, because McConnell just isn’t a credible threat to the global negotiations. Well aware that Republicans have not changed their minds on UN climate treaties—and have in fact gone to a greater extreme—negotiators have put together a different kind of deal for a Paris conference at the end of the year, one that looks nothing like Kyoto. Republican obstinacy is so predictable, it’s already baked into the structure, politics, and messaging ahead of a deal in Paris.

At Paris, countries are responsible for putting forward their own emissions plans. Though it’s not clear what structure the final deal will take—including which elements are binding and which are not—the emissions cuts proposed at Paris probably won’t require Senate approval because they won’t be binding, as they were in Kyoto. Obama has pledged U.S. climate action through executive authority. (Of course, that also means that many of his pledges in Paris will rely on the commitment of his successor.)

McConnell’s strategy is clear: Send the world some very mixed messages on what the U.S. intends to do about its own greenhouse gas emissions. He’s emphasizing Republican plans to block the Clean Power Plan, a key part of Obama’s strategy to cut the U.S.’s carbon footprint by reducing emissions from electricity 32 percent by 2032. The GOP’s likely tool will be the Congressional Review Act, which requires only a majority vote to repeal a law—but it’s still subject to Obama’s veto, which makes repeal unlikely. The Senate may also take up a bill passed by the Environment and Public Works Committee that delays the Clean Power Plan until court challenges are resolved, a process that could take years and years—but though the Supreme Court could send the regulation back to the Environmental Protection Agency, defenders insist it is on sound legal ground. One tactic might work in the short term: Congress’s control over appropriations gives the GOP the ability to withhold the $3 billion Obama promised to the Green Climate Fund, an international fund to help poorer nations adapt to climate change. But it’s unlikely that alone would be enough to blow up broader negotiations.

Despite the largely hollow threats from McConnell, the Obama administration has been conducting its own outreach to large polluters like China to explain how the U.S. can deliver on its promises in good faith without Congress’ input—as long as a Democrat is in office, that is. In March, the U.S. submitted its pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions up to 28 percent by 2025 over 2005 levels. When negotiators ask State Department climate envoy Todd Stern about the “solidity of U.S. action,” he says he assures them that “the kind of regulation being put in place is not easily undone,” signaling that the White House is confident its Clean Power Plan and other EPA regulations can survive court battles and congressional opposition.

All this means mixed news for Paris: The bad news is that a single Republican is powerful enough to undo the deal—but not until long after December, and only if the GOP wins the White House in 2016. The good news, though, is this means Congress is largely on the sidelines for Paris and won’t make or break the negotiations. It won’t be Mitch McConnell who sinks a deal.

 

By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, September 9, 2015

September 10, 2015 Posted by | Climate Change, Mitch Mc Connell, Paris Climate Conference | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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