The politics of climate change are shifting against the GOP. New polling shows that majorities of Republicans accept that climate change is a problem and support steps to address it. It is mainly the stubborn core of far-right conservatives, mostly older white men, that still rejects reality altogether.
It’s a crucial juncture for the party. There are two ways it could go.
The first is a good-faith search for conservative-friendly climate solutions. A handful of Republicans are taking this route, supporting a bill called the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, introduced in the House in November and (in a slightly different form) the Senate earlier this month. It would implement a $15 carbon tax, rising at $10 a year, with all the revenue returned as per-capita dividends, aiming to reduce US carbon emissions 40 percent within 10 years and 90 percent by 2050. It’s a credible, ambitious climate effort. It’s got two Republican co-sponsors in the House and one in the Senate.
(It is distinct from the similar though somewhat less ambitious proposal from the Climate Leadership Council, which is backed by several retired Republicans and the Americans for Carbon Dividends PAC.)
The problem is that most GOP funders and elected officials remain devoted to the cause of protecting fossil fuels, and protecting fossil fuels is, by definition, incommensurate with serious action on climate change.
In his latest piece, Jenkins attempts simultaneously to cling to a bunch of the denialist myths he’s peddled for years and to chide climate activists for their lack of “maturity” in not supporting nuclear power or a carbon tax — solutions to a problem he does not believe warrants attention. (Large swaths of the left support the former and there is near-universal support on the left for the latter, but never mind that.) The sole intellectual organizing principle seems to be that the left, or at least the left of Jenkins’s stale imagination, must be bad and wrong.
But in other cases, there is some rhyme and reason to the bullshitting. One recent rhetorical gambit from Republicans is a retreat from “climate change is a hoax” to “we don’t know how much humans contribute,” which, as I wrote recently, is just another way of denying the science. (There is much uncertain in climate science, but human contribution is not part of it. We are definitely causing global warming.)
And when science denial becomes sufficiently untenable, the final line of defense, now as ever, is economic: Anything government does to counter climate change will just mess up the economy and cost taxpayers money. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told CNN he believes the climate is changing, but “I’m also not going to destroy our economy.”
However, with clean energy technologies so visibly booming, coal so visibly dying, and climate change in the headlines, a purely negative message is not enough. GOP “moderates,” the ones who still want to appear on Meet the Press, need some kind of positive message.