While the nation focuses on terrorism and the horrific attack in Paris (as well as other nations overseas), there is another issue that the Pentagon has stated is an immediate threat to our national security. Yet it is rarely, if ever, discussed in those terms on the Republican side of the aisle. In fact, there's been a pink elephant in the room during the four GOP presidential debates and despite its wheezing smoke, it's been almost totally absent from the conversation. That lonely pachyderm is climate change.
During the over nine hours of debate time (counting the main events, not the undercards) on Fox News, CNN, CSNBC and Fox Financial News, there has been only one question regarding climate change and it was answered by just three candidates for a grand total of four minutes. Are Republicans waiting for a debate moderated by the Weather Channel to discuss one of most important issues facing our country's future? After countless sound bites by aspirants to the Oval Office exclaiming that America must reassert its leadership role throughout the world, when it comes to climate change, we are left with Marco Rubio's contention that "America is not a planet."
As a pragmatist, I go by the numbers. According to Global Climate Change, a NASA website, 97 percent of climate scientists agree that warming trends over the past century, especially the last 35 years, have very likely increased due to human activities. Both 2014 and 2015 have been the hottest years ever recorded. Ocean temperatures are rising, greenhouse gas measurements are at an all-time high and extreme weather events are increasing, including heat waves, heavy rains and flooding, droughts and coastal flooding.
An article in The Atlantic, The Republican Solution For Climate Change, notes that a new University of Michigan poll shows that 70% of Americans believe that there is solid evidence of global warming over the past four decades. Another poll by the University of Texas in Austin indicates a recent rise in the numbers of Republican voters who acknowledge that climate change is happening: from 47 percent to 59 percent. Add in the fact that support for climate change initiatives is even higher among two key swing groups, younger Republicans and political independents and you have plenty of hard proof that climate change will be a pivotal issue in 2016.
On a practical level, climate change is a tough issue because you're asking people to pay a hard cost today for a problem with a future benefit that is isn't clearly defined. But even when faced with verifiable scientific proof, GOP candidates have continued repeating their mantra of "I'm not a scientist." Is it possible to prove with absolute certainty that human activity is playing a role? No. But there are so many overwhelming pieces of evidence that you really can't refute it anymore. And if the Republican Party doesn't seriously address climate change, we will not only be seen as tone-deaf musicians who keep playing as the Titanic slides slowly into the sea, but as willfully ignorant, too.
The Pentagon's July report to Congress finds that rising sea levels and climate disruptions are a present security threat, not strictly a long-term risk, and that we are already observing the impacts of climate change in the United States, and in the Arctic, Middle East, Africa, Asia, and South America. This means increased risks from terrorism, infectious disease, global poverty and food shortages and rising demand for military disaster responses as extreme weather creates more global humanitarian crises. With the United Nation Climate Change Conference in Paris this week, what better time to focus on an additional threat to our national security?
The GOP is also closely linked with petroleum interests, and the right-wing machine has been very good at obfuscating the issue of global warming and climate change, part of which is due to funding from companies like Exxon or the Koch brothers, people that have an obvious stake in the survival of fossil fuels. They continue to promote effective campaigns that create this cloud of uncertainty, which is reminiscent of the tobacco industry in the '60s and '70s, which never really denied tobacco's proven role in creating serious health damage, but stuck to obscuring the evidence.
Of course, there's a big difference between complaining about a problem and looking for solutions. The key to resolving the complex challenges of climate change is going to be technology and getting people to realize that green energy and good economic policy are the same thing. If the GOP could start to see climate change in broader terms of America's future energy needs, then, we can begin a dialogue within the party aimed at defining long-term goals. This means moving towards a revenue neutral carbon tax and an energy infrastructure fueled by natural gas and solar power and away from coal-fired power plants, the biggest source of human greenhouse gas emissions. But most of all, it involves unleashing America's innovative free market, which conservatives love, unless it's trying to solve a problem they don't want to discuss.
My uncle, Jay Rockefeller, who retired from the Senate last year (and granted, it's easier to do things when you're leaving office), had the guts to tell the West Virginia State Legislature that with the industry battered by layoffs and bankruptcies, coal is dying, and rather than continuing to fight a losing battle, they could start adapting now. And while climate change may not have the immediacy of issues like the economy and tax reform during a national election, energy policy belongs in the national conversation, and right now the GOP is on the wrong side of the barometer.
The Republican Party must avoid the old adage; you can pay me now or pay me later. It's time to get our heads out of the sand and admit that climate change is no longer a question of weather or not.