"Climate Change:" What's a Republican To Do?

On Valentine’s Day, president Obama held a Google chat where he pressed the issue of “climate change.” I find it interesting that its proponents have shifted the name from its previous “global warming” to its now preferred verbiage- “climate change”- as if changing the name makes the “solutions” any less nonsensical. But, I digress. In that chat, Obama notes that the likelihood of legislative action is very low and that, true to his inaugural address, he would take “unilateral” action, or his preferred method of being presidential- the Executive Order. For example, he noted how his order regarding fuel efficiency standards on vehicles has “helped,” although his definition of the word “helped” is open to interpretation. This statement would likely foreshadow a strategy he will use with the climate change debate- efficiency standards on homes and appliances and likely regulations designed against energy producers, mainly those that use coal. He will likely enlist the EPA which under Obama is akin to an environmental Gestapo.

Most historical public opinion polls indicate that the belief of Americans as concerns climate change reached its zenith in 2006. Of course, then it was called global warming. With the election of Obama in 2008, there was a push in Congress for passing cap-and-trade legislation that ultimately and thankfully failed. There was a slow, but not really significant decline in the perception of Americans regarding this “problem” of climate change. What did change was the importance of the issue to Americans. Likely because of the economy at the time, climate change as an important issue had dropped down the list as economic issues, mainly jobs, took priority. To the environmentalist voter, the importance of the issue has remained rather consistent. Thankfully, they tend to vote Democratic anyway and no Republican messaging is going to sway their vote. Also thankfully, they are not really a large segment of the electorate.

Although climate change did not figure prominently in the 2012 campaign, Obama has resurrected the issue first at his Inaugural Address and then again at the State of the Union. In effect, he is attempting to seize on a resurgence of climate change as an issue which has been slowly building since 2010. Several public opinion polls from a variety of sources indicate this. Naturally, this “tendency” buys into the liberal agenda Obama has set forth for his second term since his first term did not start to “heal the planet” and abate the “rise of the oceans.” While Democrats and liberals and especially environmentalists will likely applaud Obama for bringing the issue to the fore again, it is actually the other way around as these public opinion polls have indicated. His utterances are predicated by the polls; the polls are not indicative of the efficacy of the presidential “bully pulpit” in this area. Put another way, Obama is following the polls, the polls are not following Obama.

Instead, the recent resurgence of climate change as an issue is likely based upon two media-driven events: the drought in 2012 affecting about two-thirds of the country, and Hurricane Sandy. Liberals, aided and abetted by the media, seized on these events as proof-positive that the country is experiencing the results of climate change and that this change is caused by human activity. The majority of the electorate is more open to catch phrases than they are to reasoned debate over the issue. NBC in the summer of 2012 did a series of reports one week following the path of a river to illustrate how the drought was affecting water supplies needed for farming and other needs. No one denies there was a drought and that water levels were particularly low mainly because of (1) a lack of rainfall and (2) lower than normal winter snowfall. In knee-jerk fashion, the media always portrays some weather aberration as proof of global warming. While not denying the drought, there is no reason to believe that this is the only time the area has experienced a drought, or that the Midwestern United States is immune to a drought.

Just as Al Gore used Hurricane Katrina to illustrate the “future” for American cities if climate change is not addressed, Hurricane Sandy was likewise used as a propaganda tool. What made Katrina so devastating was that it hit a major population area and that human mismanagement of its aftermath made it worse. Sandy also hit an even more populated area. Since Katrina, there have been no hits on New Orleans and I can almost predict with certainty no hurricane will come up the Atlantic seaboard and then make a perfect left turn towards the Jersey shoreline during an astronomical high tide during a full moon for a very long time. But, the aberration becomes the evidence for the Gorites.

Jon Krosnick at Stanford University has been tracking public opinion regarding climate change for several years now and has noted this recent uptick. Likewise, a recent 2013 study from Duke University indicates that voters are more apt to favor regulations over direct taxes like a cap-and-trade system in order to control greenhouse gases. The Duke study also indicates that 54% of Americans believe climate change is due to human activity and that among the all important independent voter, 35% of respondents consider the problem “serious.” One study was actually an experiment that used various messaging statements about climate change and taking a position on it. The study found that among Democratic voters, who they would vote for the message made no difference. Among Republicans, the group most skeptical about climate change, there was a slight, but insignificant preference for the hypothetical candidate who acknowledged climate change. Among independents, if the hypothetical candidate took a stance on climate change, the “voter” was more apt to vote for that candidate despite the candidate’s party.

The moral of the story: outright denial of climate change per se is not a winning message. A majority of Americans believes in the phenomena of climate change. But, there is a difference along ideological lines as to whether that change is caused by human activity. Obviously, the conservatives who believe in climate change believe in its man-made component less than the more liberal people out there. Among independents, there is almost an even split although more believe it is a man-made phenomena. Put any other way, liberals are winning the messaging battle. So what is a Republican to do?

The first step has to be re-education of the general public without putting them off or talking down to them as if they are mistaken schoolchildren. Every piece of alleged evidence offered up by the environmental crowd must be neutralized by a more reasoned examination of that evidence. There are enough conservative spokespeople out there to get this job done. Part of the demise of the urgency of climate change in the aftermath of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” was others poking holes in his evidence. And although the cards were stacked against conservatives, dents were made in the environmental armor. The job was just never finished.

Secondly, one thing that practically every public opinion poll out there proves is that when the solution is brought down to the personal economic level, Republicans hold the advantage here. As was mentioned earlier, if there is to be a national solution to the alleged climate change problem (and let’s assume it is man-made for the sake of argument), people are more apt to support regulation over taxation. Therefore, equating regulation with taxation is a winning message. At the end of the day, most people need to put gas in their cars to get from Point A to Point B. Most people need to heat their homes and electricity to run their computers and televisions and charge their cell phones. All of that takes energy and Americans prefer cheap energy. Illustrating how regulations increase energy costs and hurt everyone is a winning strategy. The liberals are left with only emotional appeals for the good of the planet and I can almost guarantee that economic concerns will trump these other concerns every time.

Third, given this state of affairs and two-pronged attack- education and appeal to the economics of climate change regulation- a “solution” has to be offered up. That solution is a challenge to the Democratic Party and the environmental movement. And that challenge is to develop nuclear power in the United States. If a country like France can generate 85% of its energy needs through nuclear power, there is no reason to believe the U.S. cannot do likewise. Besides the infrastructure and construction jobs created by nuclear power development, not to mention the high-paying long-term jobs created, this is yet another no brainer solution to a multitude of “problems.” Obama and company are very high on good paying and high tech jobs. This could be a Republican equivalent to the space program with greater tangible effects- cheaper, cleaner energy production and a decreased reliance on unstable sources of oil. We can become an exporter of energy and an exporter of technology. The French recycle nuclear waste; why can’t we? Most economists will tell you that the high cost of nuclear plant construction and operation is due to regulations at the EPA and NRC that hinder nuclear power development in this country. Fear-mongering is the preferred method of intimidation among the environmental folks when it comes to nuclear power since that is all they are left with at the end of the day. They will cite Three Mile Island (not a single death), Japan, or Chernobyl. As TMI proved, American safeguards worked well to contain the escape of radioactivity while Chernobyl was due to massive human error and faulty design nowhere approximating the minimal requirements here. Japan was basically a one-off situation. Other than perhaps California and Alaska, nowhere in the U.S. would siting of a nuclear plant present a danger from an earthquake. In the end, their examples of the alleged danger of nuclear power is riddled with holes.

Along with natural gas development (including vehicles that run on natural gas which are more cost-effective than CAFE standards or electric cars) and the development of nuclear energy domestically, the United States can become less dependent on oil, especially from suspect allies, and make the environment cleaner while decreasing greenhouse gases which allegedly lead to global warming. Unilaterally addressing the problem, if such exists, is akin to unilateral disarmament that would damage our economy for some perceived “good of the planet.” Unilaterally addressing the alleged problem by the President is akin to an environmental fascism dictatorship.