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Horowitz: Earth Day 2015 - Much to Celebrate; But Bi-Partisanship Needed

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

 

Rob Horowitz

As we celebrate the 45th  annual Earth Day tomorrow, there is much room for optimism and substantial accomplishments to note. Most importantly, due in large measure to President Obama’s leadership, substantial progress is being made on addressing climate change both here at home and internationally. Sustaining progress on our tough environmental problems over the long-term, however, requires bi-partisanship and attracting the support of major Republican elected officials for environmental initiatives remains a vexing challenge

By giving the United States new found credibility on climate change, a series of tough Executive Actions by President Obama, including major increases in fuel economy requirements for cars and trucks and new limitations on carbon emissions at coal-fired power plants, set the stage for a consequential diplomatic breakthrough. This past fall, for the first time ever, nearly all the nations of the world agreed to put their country on a path to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change.  The so-called ‘Lima Accord’ reached in Lima, Peru, while falling short of specific goals and timetables, is a historic breakthrough, providing the real potential to limit the rise of global temperatures and as a result the worst possible consequences of global warming. This agreement will be formalized in Paris this fall.

 The agreement is of major significance because developing nations, such as China and India, now the world’s first and third largest carbon emitters traditionally resisted making any commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, saying that the problem was created by the developed world, primarily the United States and Western Europe, and they should bear the brunt of the solution. This response made it more difficult to generate action on climate in the developed world, because critics pointed out accurately, that if the developing world did not join in reducing emissions, the problem could not be solved  

Coupled with this encouraging progress on the diplomatic front, is the fact that the use of renewable energy, fueled by dramatic reductions in cost, is increasing at much faster rates than predicted.  This encouraging development makes achieving the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions needed more doable.

But before too giddily celebrating all this good news, we must note the continued nearly unanimous Republican opposition to either taking action on the climate challenge or even acknowledging there is one. For example, when the Obama Administration, pursuant to the preliminary new international agreement, recently submitted its plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28% to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell(R-KY) responded by arguing that the world should essentially disregard the document, because United States could not meet the targets committed to by the President.   McConnell also encouraged states to ignore the recent EPA proposed rule limiting carbon emissions at power plants calling it ‘illegal.”

Unfortunately, McConnell’s actions are not merely the political grandstanding of one Coal State Senator; they reflect the stances of the overwhelming majority of Republican Senators and Congressman. It has gotten so bad former Republican Congressman Bob Inglis of South Carolina was just awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award simply for declaring that climate change is a real problem and advocating for solutions. 

Republican voters are beginning to depart from this rigid and anti-scientific position against taking any action on reducing greenhouse gases, creating a potential opening for movement among Republican elected officials. Six-in-ten Republicans now believe that if nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gases, global warming will become a very serious or somewhat serious problem, according to a recent poll conducted by The New York Times, Stanford University and Resources for the Future, an environmental research organization  Further, a substantial percentage of Republican voters now say they are less likely to vote for a candidate who says climate change is a hoax or who adopts the Party’s new talking point mantra, “I’m not a scientist, so I don’t know.”  

Seizing this shift in public opinion among Republicans and generating support from at least some Republican elected officials is a key to sustaining the important progress we’ve made on climate change and other environmental issues beyond the Obama Presidency.  

It may be encouraging to note that this kind of support would not be unprecedented. At the time of the first Earth Day  forty-five years ago, there was much Republican support for action on the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency was founded under President Nixon and the initial Clean Air and Water Acts passed with large amounts of support from Republicans in Congress.

Recovering some of this bi-partisanship needs to be one of the environmental movement’s top goals. Some thoughts about how to accomplish this will be the subject of  a future column

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at University of Rhode Island.

 

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