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GOP House Climate Resolution: Cheers, and Sighs

And now, some good news from the GOP on climate change. Ten Republican members of the House of Representatives have signed a resolution that acknowledges manmade climate change, accepts that we bear responsibility for adverse consequences affecting vulnerable populations and our children, and commits to working constructively to clean up our mess.

We hear that more Republicans will come on board. But for now, it’s ten – about 4 percent of the Republican House Caucus. It’s a start. If all you’ve heard about the GOP’s approach to caring for the creation is that they’re suing the EPA and trying to defund it, that they’re trying to kill its climate pollution mitigation plans, and that they’re telling world leaders that American commitments on climate change at the global climate summit in Paris this December will be dead-on-arrival in Congress, then surely this offers a ray of encouragement.

Rep. Chris Gibson, R-NY

So we offer special thanks to Congressman Chris Gibson (R-NY 19th District), for leading this effort. And we’re thankful for Pope Francis, whose impending visit must certainly have prompted reflection on the part of politicians whose constituents embrace the pontiff’s appeal to act on climate pollution.

But whatever appreciation we can muster, Gibson’s resolution is still mixed reading. Yes, it goes a long way toward accepting the realities so long denied by the party. At the same time, it also offers a painful reminder of how much silliness must still be endured to garner even a shred of support from the majority in Congress. Just to get signatures from 4 percent of GOP congressional representatives, they had to invoke “American exceptionalism,” promise to oppose anything economically painful, and entirely ignore the effects of climate pollution on those living beyond our borders.

So, is it cheers for Gibson and his colleagues, or sighs for the herculean obstacles he faces? Here’s a sampling of both.

Cheers…

There really is a lot to like about this GOP resolution. It would be churlish to pick at the flaws, and ignore some of the real progress:

  • They acknowledge that it should be a conservative impulse to conserve the creation (“to protect, conserve, and be good stewards of our environment”). Cheers!
  • They admit that extreme weather is getting worse (“more frequent heat waves, extreme precipitation, wildfires, and water scarcity”), and is expected to worsen further (“longer and hotter heat waves, more severe storms, worsening flood and drought cycles, growing invasive species and insect problems, threatened native plant and wildlife populations, rising sea levels”). Cheers!
  • They admit that climate pollution harms the poor (“hitting vulnerable populations hardest”) and our children (“saddling future generations with costly economic and environmental burdens”). Cheers!
  • They admit that climate disruption is a threat to national security (citing military assessments that the effects of climate change are “threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad”). Cheers!
  • And they commit to working constructively to find solutions to human activities that lead to climate change. Cheers!

All good stuff. Cheers for you, Mr. Gibson!

Sighs…

But that’s not the whole story, I’m afraid. It’s clear that the resolution has been labored over to fend off as many objections as possible. And some of that editing looks ominous to those of us hoping for a thaw in congressional obstruction on climate action.

  • There is virtually no acknowledgement whatsoever of harm from our climate pollution on those outside the United States. While they acknowledge the harmful impact on “all Americans” and the “challenges we face as a nation,” you might think that they imagine that the impacts of our climate pollution simply stop at our borders. This point is not academic. Rather, it permits signatories to avoid entirely the moral debt that heavy polluters like the US now owe to vulnerable communities in Africa, the Middle East, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Central America, and island nations. Sigh.
  • Actually, there is one mention of harm abroad. The resolution acknowledges that US military planners view the effects of climate disruption as ‘‘threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions.’’ So yes, they indirectly agree that our pollution does indeed harm other nations, but their concern is specifically limited to the security impact that the resulting chaos will have on us and our military. Sigh.
  • And you’d think that a problem worthy of national and global action would be worthwhile, even if it cost us something. But it’s not just petty nitpicking to note that Mr. Gibson’s resolution stipulates that the solution must be costless: “Any efforts to mitigate the risks of, prepare for, or otherwise address our changing climate and its effects should not constrain the United States economy….” Well, global crises have a nasty habit of constraining economies. WWII wasn’t costless. Our response to polio, cholera or Ebola wasn’t costless. Protecting the ozone layer wasn’t costless. There are some things you do to survive and protect others that have costs. Do they really believe that this is an exception? Sigh.
  • Speaking of exceptions, they feel the need to stress that that’s exactly what we are. They call on the “tradition of American ingenuity, innovation, and exceptionalism” to act on climate. We suspect that American exceptionalism – the doctrine that the United States is fundamentally different from other nations – is inherently corrosive to efforts that call on all nations to begin seeing themselves as a global community to protect a shared inheritance for all of our children. Sigh.
  • Our least significant “sigh” we leave for last. The resolution commits its signatories “to study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates.” To study climate change. You may wonder if they mean something like 12,000 peer reviewed studies over a period of twenty years? Actually, that’s already been done without them, at an average pace of roughly two such studies per day over a span of two decades. Sadly, those have been almost entirely ignored or rejected by congressional leaders. It could be significant, however, if it meant that they would reverse their votes earlier this year to cut funding for NASA and NOAA related to climate research.

So, we want to applaud anything that this Congress does to protect our Father’s suffering creation. Mr. Gibson’s resolution offers a lot to like, and we pray for his success. But to us, his labored final draft offers a sobering picture of the road ahead for him.

Perhaps we need a miracle, something we pray for earnestly. At the very least, we need citizens willing to speak out like Mr. Gibson is doing. We are pulling for you, sir. May God be with you.

J. Elwood

Can the GOP Survive the Aftermath of Climate Denial?

I am an evangelical American Christian. And a white baby-boomer, to boot.

That means, of course, that many of my closest friends and fellow believers usually support Republican political candidates. Maybe not as enthusiastically as they used to, what with the GOP’s stance on unlimited money in politics, opposition to immigration reform, Medicaid cuts, suppression of voting rights, the death penalty, reckless preemptive wars and austerity for the poor.

But let’s face it: We evangelicals still lean pretty heavily toward the GOP. I’m afraid, however, that the tide of history is about to ebb, and when it does, I suspect Christians will desert the Republicans in droves.

Here’s why: The GOP has made a hopelessly losing bet. They’ve bet that we’ll never wake up to the lethal consequences of what our fossil fuel addiction is doing to the world’s polluted and disrupted natural systems. Particularly the global climate system. Almost unanimously, Republicans in Congress have committed themselves to the denial and suppression of the increasingly alarming findings of climate science.

Thursday’s news brought us a fresh incarnation of this commitment. The House of Representatives voted to prohibit the U.S. Armed Services from considering climate change in their defense planning. Imagine FDR strictly forbidding naval commanders at Pearl Harbor from EVER planning for carrier-borne aircraft attacks. It’s about like that.

Here’s what happened. Congress is currently debating the National Defense Authorization Act for 2015, which will fund our nation’s military services. Of course, we’re investing more money into the military than the next nine largest militaries in the world combined. So we should be way ahead of them all, shouldn’t we?

One thing we’ve done since the year 2000 is to plan for the effects on national defense from global climate change — under presidents from both parties. Rising sea levels are threatening our naval infrastructure; the melting Artic is opening up a whole new ocean to patrol; extreme drought and flooding are destabilizing marginal nation-states – like Syria, Sudan, Libya and Somalia – and driving mass migration and resource conflicts.

In 2007, President George W. Bush appointed a Military Advisory Board to “help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change.” In response, the Armed Services issued a report finding that “climate change acts as a ‘threat multiplier’ in already fragile regions of the world, creating the breeding grounds for extremism and terrorism.”

Republican Bob Inglis, ousted from Congress for agreeing with climate science

Bob Inglis (R-SC), lone GOP voice for climate action, ousted from Congress by the party.

We haven’t forgotten, have we? Bush was a Republican. But back then, the GOP hadn’t figured out that they could frame climate science as something invented by Barack Obama – rather than a 200-year-old discipline now affirmed all over the world.

Fast forward to 2014. The House Thursday passed a measure that would bar the Department of Defense from using any government funds to assess climate change and its implications for national security. The amendment, from Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), passed with the support of 227 Republicans. Only 3 GOP congressmen joined the 189 Democrats in voting against the amendment. That’s more than 98% of GOP congressmen trying to forbid the military from thinking about how to defend our country in light of climate trends, as they did actively under Presidents Clinton and Bush. Continue reading

Climate Change in American Politics and Religion

 

People all over the world are beginning to take manmade climate disruption very seriously. The Pew Research Center found last year that three out of four Brazilians and Koreans say that climate change is “a major threat” their countries. More than 70 percent of Japanese and Argentinians agree. So do two-thirds of Italians and Spaniards, plus a solid majority of Germans, French, Australians, Canadians and Mexicans. And that’s only the developed world. We’ve found that developing countries are generally much more highly alarmed at the unfolding consequences of climate change as they experience them.

Americans? Not so much. The same Pew study found that only 4 in 10 of us felt that climate change is a major threat. So what’s up with that? What do we know that the rest of the world doesn’t? Or vice versa?

Well, the Pew organization has completed another study that gives us new insights into American attitudes toward climate change. The bottom line is this: political affiliation makes all the difference about what you think about climate in America. I recognize that Beloved Planet readers come from across the political spectrum, but Pew has detailed some fundamental realities that should be interesting to people of all persuasions.

When it comes to climate change, Democrats and Independents generally believe just about the same things that people from the rest of the developed world believe. Republicans, on the other hand, are mostly unconcerned, and many of them don’t even think it’s happening at all. And within the GOP, Tea Party adherents overwhelmingly deny the existence or importance of climate change, while non-Tea Party Republicans are a bit closer to everyone else.

How could this be, you ask? Political philosophy can’t determine my views on scientific topics, can it? We’ll get to that, but first, let’s look at what Pew discovered.

For starters, only 25 percent of self-identified Republicans said they considered global climate change to be a major threat. The only countries in the world who expressed that little concern are Egypt and Pakistan. But on a much more basic scientific question – “is there solid evidence that the earth is warming?” – only 46% of Republicans said Yes. More importantly, of those 46%, just less than half (19%) said that it’s happening because of “natural patterns.” A person who takes this position will never favor policies to mitigate human climate pollution, because according to this narrative, we’re not the reason it’s happening.

Source:

Wide gap on climate science between GOP and Democrats

So practically speaking, those 19% (“it’s-happening-but-we’re-not-to-blame”) should be added to the other 46% of self-identified Republicans who say that there’s “no solid evidence” of climate change in the first place. That makes 65% of GOP voters who will oppose climate action, either because it’s not real, or because it’s the result of natural factors beyond our control.

Continue reading