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Climate change and Republicans: the public won’t get fooled again

July 3, 2013

In a new Guardian article from Dana Nuccitelli in his excellent column ‘Climate Consensus – the 97%’, I’m pleased to see the observation made that climate change deniers disenfranchise themselves from the debate (Has the Republican Party stopped denying climate science, and will they begin participating in the solutions?).

Basically, Dana observes that the Republicans are finding themselves on the wrong side of too many issues. Their entrenchment, particularly over climate change, achieves two strange and counter-productive ends. First, they are no longer at liberty to claim that climate change isn’t happening without having to assure people whose homes are flooded, burned down, destroyed by freak weather, and farmers whose crops have withered and died, that really nothing’s wrong – it’s all just ‘natural. This isn’t an argument that’s going to play well.

Their other problem is this: if you set yourself against science, against the global concensus, and against the evidence, you cannot be part of any conversation in which remedies are discussed. I have long maintained that climate change deniers, by dint of their own intransigence, also disenfranchise themselves from any debate about the issues they claim to care about so much; the economic and political consequences of mitigation and adaptation.

Dana observes in his piece that Republicans, prompted by Obama’s announcement that he will use Executive Orders issued to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement action on climate change, have not engaged in the usual nonsense about the science, but have tried almost exclusively to contest the economic territory.

This seems an obvious and pragmatic shift in strategy: of course the Republicans are debating the economic issues by choice; they cannot sustain a rational argument against the science without resorting to bizarre conspiracies and ideological paranoia. In the end, the melting ice, the storms, the droughts, fires and floods, all tell a tale that the US public cannot ignore. For the political class to find themselves trying to convince the agricultural heartland that they really aren’t have a very bad time is an unlikely pitch.

Perhaps too, the conservatives are finding themselves on the wrong side of their own traditional allies. When the US military so unequivocally supports the science of climate change, rating so highly the threat to national security, it’s very hard for Republicans to paint the Pentagon or DOD as ‘lefties’, or to accuse them of self-serving demagoguery (not that the military abstain from such behaviour when it suits them, and they can get away with it).

I don’t think it wise to pick a fight with the national defence establishment , nor make accusations that imply ideological disloyalty (or non-conformity) on the part of American servicemen and women. Equally, Republicans are finding themselves on the wrong side of other sectors of a conservative society whose support they may have taken for granted.

What business sector, other than fossil fuels, can ignore the potential disruption to both domestic and export trade, in a world already struggling to keep existing economic systems going? Financial entities like insurance companies are palpably disturbed by climate change and what it implies; a re-write of the actuarial tables, and a big hike in premiums across the board.

The GOP seem to have lost touch with their own electorate on many issues, prompting some heart-searching introspection. The extreme right has alienated too many voters, while the business world is split between those whose self-interest will continue to fund the more extreme political positions, and those with perhaps a more sanguine view of their future. This is an extract from a prescient 2009 Wall Street Journal article:

WASHINGTON — Business is parting from its traditional allies in the Republican Party on health care as companies and big corporate lobbyists lend tentative support to a congressional overhaul that conservative lawmakers staunchly oppose. The rift mirrors a similar divide on other issues, including immigration and climate change, where many companies have backed legislative action that Republican lawmakers oppose.

Source: WSJ

In the five years since that article appeared, the situation has worsened for the Republicans. Climate change is making itself felt to a degree that shows up the demagogues for what they really are – champions of the best freedom money can buy. Sure, the right can continue to pander to the ideologues, but the American public are as disillusioned with the rhetoric of the right as they are with the overblown promises of the left, and of Obama in particular.

Only by advocating prudence, conservatism and pragmatic governance can the Republicans regain credibility. The margins shout loud, but do not hold enough votes to capture the White House, nor hold on to congress or the senate with a robust majority. All the while the Republicans indulge themselves with climate change denial, they distance themselves from a public weary of polarised politics. Most Americans just want jobs, a decent income, some kind of stability. Opposing science, the weather, and a rapidly destabilising climate, will not bring about an economic recovery, nor gain traction with an electorate who know too much, are too well informed, and hopefully won’t get fooled again.

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