Today, conservatives have largely abandoned environmental causes in a fog of climate change denial set in motion long ago by the fossil fuel industry. But we’re beginning to see some cracks, even from that very industry itself.
Recently, a group of CEOs from high-profile corporations—including some oil companies—joined forces with environmental groups to form the CEO Climate Dialogue, which called for U.S. policy that would get the nation on a path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent or more by 2050.
Those of us who care about the environment need to try to build off this effort, as well as similar ones by other corporations, to generate support among Republicans. For decades, this was a bipartisan issue, and there’s no reason it can’t be again. I consider myself a conservationist, and when I speak to my conservative friends, I remind them that there’s a reason “conservationist” has “conservative” as its root—conserving our natural resources is in fact a conservative value.
Hard as is it to picture now, the GOP once had leaders with progressive views on the environment.
In 1970, Nixon devoted several minutes to the issue in his first State of the Union address, rightly casting the issue as one that transcends politics:
In 1988, Bush campaigned as the “environmental president”; once in office, he signed the Global Change Research Act of 1990, the law that forced the Trump administration last November to release the National Climate Assessment, which warned of dire impacts of climate change to our economy and environment. He also signed a new Clean Air Act that same year, which is credited with eliminating acid rain.
Two decades later, McCain made climate change an important part of his unsuccessful Republican presidential campaign.
There used to be pro-environment Republican governors, too. My friend Tommy Thompson had an impressive record in conserving lands during his four terms as governor of Wisconsin. He often kids me that he did more in this area than my dad—the late Wisconsin Sen. and Gov. Gaylord Nelson, who had founded Earth Day—when he was governor. (Of course, Tommy served a lot longer.)
Tommy is still proud of that accomplishment, recently touting: “We purchased and saved more lands than any administration ever under my administration.” And on Earth Day, he teamed up with former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) to urge a return to bipartisanship on the environment.
Recently, three Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee—Reps. Greg Walden of Oregon, Fred Upton of Michigan, and John Shimkus of Illinois—wrote an op-ed declaring “climate change is real.” They urged policies to encourage innovation and renewable energy development, among other ideas.
Whether you support free-market solutions or the Green New Deal, the important thing is that citizens and elected officials engage in discussion about how we make swift progress toward a prosperous future of clean energy and a strong economy.
Some Republicans are publicly challenging President Trump’s hostility to climate change solutions. At last December’s United Nations climate conference in Poland, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stressed that the U.S. was still in the Paris climate agreement, despite Trump’s decision to leave the accord.
There’s no doubt, pro-environment Republicans have become an endangered species. But as the Nixon-era Endangered Species Act has demonstrated, there’s always hope for recovery.
This article was originally published by the Outrider Post and republished with permission as a part of a partnership between The Rising and the Outrider Foundation.
Tia Nelson is the Founder of the Outrider Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on advancing science-based literacy on global risks that affect the well-being of the planet. Content posted on this column has been syndicated from the Outrider Post as a part of a partnership between The Rising and the Outrider Foundation.
Alaska Climate Emergency Worsens As Governor Dunleavy Takes No Action
The Alaska climate emergency may is arguably more critical than anywhere else on Earth. The state’s ice is melting, its forests are burning, and statewide ecosystems are dying. Naturally, Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy’s administration is somehow doing less than nothing as it disbands climate task forces and outright denies a climate emergency. The Dunleavy administration is actively moving in the wrong direction. Our nation’s northernmost state is barreling towards an environmental catastrophe, and the current administration seems entirely apathetic.
Climate Change’s Increased Arctic Effect
A common perception is that the Earth’s increased temperature spreads relatively evenly across the planet. Unfortunately, this is not the case; researchers consistently find the North Pole is warming at a much greater rate than average.
In its most recent Arctic Report Card, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a government agency under the Department of Commerce, stated: “surface air temperatures in the Arctic continued to warm at twice the rate relative to the rest of the globe”.
This is due to a phenomenon called Arctic amplification. Normally, white ice and snow reflect sunlight back into space, which keeps the Earth cool. Unfortunately, melting ice exposes the dark colors of the land and sea beneath which absorb more energy and exacerbates climate change.
Ice melts, exposing dark colors, and the resultant warming causes more ice to melt in a catastrophic cycle.
A fair amount of Alaska’s land lies within the Arctic Circle, and the North Pole’s climate change trends affect the entire state. In a separate report, NOAA indicated that statewide temperatures have increased drastically, the snow season has shortened, and a record number of daily highs outnumber the lows.
This hurts every Alaskan and American, but politicians don’t seem to care.
Administration Inaction Worsens Alaska Climate Situation And Hurts Its Citizens
Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy assumed office in December of 2018 and has wasted no time in promoting climate inaction. He started this February by disbanding the state’s climate response task force.
In a prepared statement administration spokesperson Matt Shuckerow argued “no governor should be tied to a previous administration’s work product or political agenda” because we live in a country where staving off environmental catastrophe is somehow indicative of a forced political agenda.
That depiction of the Alaska climate situation may sound alarmist, but the sentiment is echoed by top-ranking state officials.
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Jason Brune was appointed by Governor Dunleavy, and he seems well aware of the drastic effects of climate change, as he explained in an interview with Alaska Public Media.
“We’re seeing increased fires, we’re seeing permafrost melting, glaciers are melting so, absolutely, we are having impacts from a changing climate in Alaska, more so probably than anywhere else on earth.” — Commissioner Jason Brune, Alaskan Department of Environmental Conservation
This is a powerful explanation of the widespread destruction of Alaskan landscapes. Unfortunately, it was only spoken as Commissioner Brune backpedaled from an equally momentous quote.
“I don’t think it is an emergency right now” — Brune
Brune Hopes To Sustain Non-Renewable Energy
Naturally, Brune failed to mention what exactly would substantiate an emergency. The state is taking measures to counteract current climate destruction, but it has chosen to ignore future projections and “big reports” as Brune put it.
The administration has made it clear that its foremost concern is sustaining non-renewable energy. Brune used to work for one of Alaska’s most controversial mines, and he is a staunch advocate for the oil industry.
It is understandable that Dunleavy and Brune want to protect Alaska’s economy, but this stance of inaction is exacerbating the Alaska climate crisis.
Protecting The Oil Industry Rather Than Citizens
Mining represents 24% of Alaska’s GDP, which is certainly a significant portion. It is the backbone of Alaskan trade and provides approximately one-third of all Alaskan jobs.
Regardless of ideology, it would be unreasonable to expect Alaska to forsake the industry, oil is simply too important to the state. That said, bending over backward to accommodate the industry has its own consequences, particularly on Alaska climate.
It is certainly true that excessive mining regulation would hurt the people of Alaska. It is also true that ice melting and rampant wildfires will also hurt Alaska’s people.
The answer is not to choose economic viability in favor of widespread environmental collapse. Some citizens are already facing the consequences of these misplaced priorities.
Alaska’s Oil Industry Seeing More Care Than Its Indigenous People
Approximately 15% of the state’s population is Alaskan Natives, an umbrella term for the various indigenous cultures who have lived off the land for thousands of years.
Many still rely on the environment to live, and several village’s subsistence economies have been wrecked by climate change.
Shouldn’t Alaska’s indigenous people be valued just as much as the oil industry?
Alaskan Federation of Natives Have Already Declared A Climate Emergency
The Alaskan Federation of Natives (AFN), has declared a climate emergency, unlike the state of Alaska. It was a divisive measure, as many Alaskan natives and tribes work within the oil industry themselves.
Still, it shows a level of cooperation and understanding that Alaska as a whole has not yet demonstrated. Alaska cannot feasibly abandon oil. But the current administration can certainly work to regulate mining within reason and take proactive action to stop climate change.
A policy of putting out fires as they occur will ultimately fail.
Even recreating its task force and acknowledging the climate emergency would be a step in the right direction.
Alaska Climate Situation Has Potential To Improve, But Government Must Act On Policy
According to US News, the state currently ranks 45th in terms of environmental policy, so there is obviously room for improvement.
The Dunleavy administration must take steps to protect Alaska’s environment as it does the oil industry. It is certainly a daunting prospect, but perhaps the state can follow the AFN’s example.
Final Note: If you are a policy-maker in Alaska, we would like to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would be happy to work with you to get the word out about what you plan to do.
Australia Gets Flamed For Neglecting The Climate Emergency In The Pacific
Former Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga has re-opened the controversy over Australia’s high-handed approach at this year’s Pacific Islands Forum. Australia has been accused of trying to silence Pacific leaders, like Sopoaga, who are demanding it to do more to combat climate change.
Tuvalu hosted the Pacific Islands Forum in August.
At the forum, Australia pressured Sopoaga among other pro-climate action leaders from the Pacific, to accept a watered-down communique. Many leaders believe it would do little to combat the climate emergency in the Pacific.
Australia not tackling the Pacific’s unique climate challenges
Sopoaga told Australia’s SBS News he thought hosting the PIF forum in Tuvalu would highlight the challenges facing smaller Pacific nations. He said he sought to show countries like Australia the existential threat climate change poses to low-lying countries like Tuvalu.
However, he regretted that support was not forthcoming. Further, he didn’t like that Pacific leaders who spoke out on climate change had the chance to accept hush money.
“Putting this money on the table … and then expecting Pacific Island countries like Tuvalu to say ‘OK, we’ll stop talking about climate change’ … is completely irresponsible,” he added.
Sopoaga said action was needed at domestic level in countries such as Australia to have any effect.
“Any amount of money that is coming with the Step-Up [Pacific aid program] cannot be seen as an excuse for no action at a domestic level to cut down on greenhouse emissions.”
Climate change poses an existential threat to Tuvalu
Tuvalu, like a number of low-lying Pacific micro-nations, is under threat from climate change. The sea has almost claimed two of the nine islands. And with the highest point only 4.6 meters above sea level, locals fear they will one day be completely swamped.
Home to just 11,000 people and an average of just 6.6 feet above sea level, Tuvalu is in danger. In fact, its people are already making plans to evacuate should sea levels rise further.
Sopoaga has previously rejected offers to relocate the people, saying it won’t make a significant difference.
“Moving outside of Tuvalu will not solve any climate change issues,” Sopoaga says. He adds, “If you put these people in the middle of industrialized countries it will simply boost their consumptions and increase greenhouse gas emissions,” as he told The Guardian in May.
Sopoaga’s term as Tuvalu PM came to an end last month after losing a vote in the country’s parliament. The expectation is that his successor, Kausea Natano, will continue the call to action from the world on climate change.
Brexit Is Overshadowing Climate Activism
Due to the ongoing Brexit crisis in the United Kingdom, discussions regarding climate change legislation has been postponed. The European Union meets four times a year in Brussels, Belgium, and this past week the British Parliament asked for yet another extension on formulating a plan to decarbonize by 2050.
The 2050 Plan
In November 2018, the EU proposed to have its total carbon emissions reach a net-zero by 2050. This was a move unique to the EU, and it sought to motivate other countries such as the US and Brazil to follow its footsteps. Over half the members of the EU, including the UK, have signed onto this plan.
Critics have deemed this plan as ambitious and near impossible. Moreover, there is a lot of pressure on European governments from large industries. Still, there is hope for the EU to reach this goal as many of the members are adamant about decarbonizing all of Europe. The biggest obstacle to this plan, however, is the countries’ internal affairs. The prime example of this is the UK’s notorious Brexit plan.
Brexit’s Prolonged Existence
In June 2016, a referendum on whether to leave the European Union was held in the UK. Then, 51.6% of people voted to leave. Ever since, deals illustrating better ways for the UK to leave the EU have been proposed. Both the EU and the UK have shared and torn apart these deals. Today, the disagreements persist with a very obscure future.
It is partly because of this ongoing issue that the EU was unable to present a proper plan for decarbonization at the UN climate summit last month. The aforementioned meeting in Brussels also illustrated that the UK won’t adopt the decarbonization plan. Many EU officials have expressed annoyance towards the UK for this reason. Climate activist Greta Thunberg further argued that if politicians and governments were serious about tackling climate change, they would not spend their time “talking about taxes and Brexit.”
The adoption of the 2050 plan from the UK is being pushed to take place in 2020. The EU has little interest in refusing the UK of an extension, too. This is because a chaotic no-deal scenario would be initiated by the EU, which would be less than advantageous.
Internal issues such as Brexit have been an obstacle to the EU’s proposed climate action for years, now. It is essential for Great Britain to pull itself out of the ongoing issue to create a plan for the future.
Will The UK Set Aside Politics To Focus On Climate Change?
Many activists wish to see countries such as the UK set aside their politics to focus on more important issues like climate change. It is unclear how long it will take for the UK and the EU to finally reach an agreement about Brexit, but there is hope that this extension will be the last one.
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