Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Cheap Political Gains of Questioning Climate Change

There are a number of disconnects in the US right now about climate change. One of the more interesting ones is the disconnect between the majority of our current elected officials and candidates running for seats in the House and Senate as well as possible presidential candidates.
Aside from some outliers (I’m looking at you, James Inhofe), most elected officials at the national level believe climate change is happening. Some are even looking to craft solutions before its too late. Senator Lindsey Graham (D), is still working with with Senators John Kerry (D) and Joe Liebermann (I) to craft a bipartisan climate change bill in the Senate to compliment the one already passed in the House. Its one of the rare moments where Senators are working across the aisle on a big issue.
It could become even more rare if some Republican hopefuls win office this fall. There are prominent Republicans such as Marco Rubio, who is running for Senate in Florida, and Tim Pawlenty, who is eying a presidential big in 2012, who have suddenly backed off of supporting climate change legislation. This is a change of pace from their stances even a few years ago.
Pawlenty supported capping greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota earlier in his role as governor. Rubio, as leader of the Florida House of Representatives, helped get a unanimous vote urging the State Department of Environmental Protection to create rules for how companies operating in Florida could limit emissions. Both of them have suddenly had a change of heart about the science of climate change.
It would seem that their reasons for changing are purely political. The Tea Party movement coupled with oil and gas special interests have jerked the Republican Party to the far right on many issues including climate change. It’s dangerous ground to be standing on, though.
While short term gains by questioning the science of climate change could help Republicans pick up seats in the House and Senate, but they could diminish long term election chances. Lindsey Graham has warned that playing to party activists could alienate young voters, particularly in the future. He’s absolutely right.
The science may not be exact, but the trends are clear enough to know things are changing. Just because we aren't certain of exact temperatures or precipitation amounts in a given year doesn’t mean we should hold off on meaningful action to reduce emissions. Temporary political gains got by questioning the science will ultimately hurt Republican credibility as climate changes and more world leaders look to act to avert the worst effects of climate change. If people like Pawlenty and Rubio win election this fall or in 2012, they should enjoy the view from the top because they won’t be there for long.

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