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May 11, 2013 1:14 PM Will Conservatives Come to Grips with Climate Change?

By Ryan Cooper

With the grim news that the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration registered over 400 parts per million for the first time in human history, a level not seen for millions of years, Coral Davenport has an encouraging piece in National Journal profiling the few lonely activists trying to bring the right out of the conspiracy swamps on climate change. This particular aside is a great demonstration of why only 6 percent of scientists identify as Republicans:

In January 2012, just before South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary, the Charleston-based Christian Coalition of America, one of the most influential advocacy groups in conservative politics, flew Emanuel down to meet with the GOP presidential candidates. Perhaps an unlikely prophet of doom where global warming is concerned, the coalition has begun to push Republicans to take action on climate change, out of worry that coming catastrophes could hit the next generation hard, especially the world’s poor.
The meetings didn’t take. “[Newt] Gingrich and [Mitt] Romney understood, … and I think they even believed the evidence and understood the risk,” Emanuel says. “But they were so terrified by the extremists in their party that in the primaries they felt compelled to deny it. Which is not good leadership, good integrity. I got a low impression of them as leaders.” Throughout the Republican presidential primaries, every candidate but one—former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who was knocked out of the race at the start—questioned, denied, or outright mocked the science of climate change.
Soon after his experience in South Carolina, Emanuel changed his lifelong Republican Party registration to independent. “The idea that you could look a huge amount of evidence straight in the face and, for purely ideological reasons, deny it, is anathema to me,” he says.

But he’s since come around to try to help conservative climate activists. Mainstream Republicanism is saturated with climate denialism, but Davenport details the few folks doing the yeoman’s work of trying to make science palatable again on the right:

[S. Carolina Rep.] Inglis would pay dearly for his support of the so-called carbon-tax swap. The following year, he lost his primary election to a tea-party candidate, Trey Gowdy. And Inglis knows his position on the climate was the reason. “The most enduring heresy was saying, ‘Climate change is real and we should do something about it.’ That was seen as a statement against the tribal orthodoxy.” […]
For the moment, however, Inglis has taken on the arduous task of bringing his party back to him. Last summer, he founded the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, a nonprofit organization based at George Mason University, focused on convincing conservatives, particularly young ones, that climate change, caused by carbon pollution, is a serious threat—and on pushing for the carbon-tax swap as a fundamentally conservative economic solution. Since last fall, Inglis and a cohort of conservative economists have made their case at a dozen events, including talks at colleges and universities in Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, and Mississippi.

Like I was saying earlier, this kind of work is the most important in American politics. (Florida conservatives ought to be especially interested.) Whatever policy the economists and scientists come up with, conservatives will almost certainly be able to strangle it in Congress or kill it in the courts. Bringing conservatives to the table would be a hugely positive development.

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper

Comments

  • T2 on May 11, 2013 2:14 PM:

    Can't happen.

  • bleh on May 11, 2013 2:39 PM:

    Concur with T2.

    -- The yahoos deny it because it makes hippies mad and because to go along with it would encourage That One, who doesn't belong in the White Man's House.

    -- There is an immense amount of money on the line for the extraction industries, and they will bankroll every bit of pseudo-science, every bit of wacky conspiracy theorizing, and every bit of political dirty-trickery, to suppress policies that will respond to climate change. They've got quarterly profit targets; the biosphere can go to hell.

    And don't tell me the Gingriches and the Romneys aren't just as afraid of the latter as of the former.

  • Sixes on May 11, 2013 3:01 PM:

    Will Conservatives Come to Grips with Climate Change?

    No.

    Conservative tribalist bullshit trumps the climate.
    Conservative tribalist bullshit trumps the country.
    Conservative tribalist bullshit trumps EVERYTHING.

  • iyoumeweus on May 11, 2013 3:18 PM:

    Until the time comes when big business, big corporations, big banks and the fossil fuel industries stops paying them, they will be deniers. They are not interested in the Earth, the nation, fellow citizens only their own bottom line. They are greedy, self-centered and self-interested. They have made the sayings of Ayn Rand an appendix to the Bible, and preach both as having the same source. Nothing will happen until we get control of lobbying and campaign contributions; thereby, getting big money out of our political system, and return government to "We the PEOPLE".

  • Mimikatz on May 11, 2013 3:29 PM:

    It can't happen with most of the older ones, but it can happen with younger people. Most people 40 and under will make it at least to midcentury, those in their teens and 20s could live to 2070 or 2080. Look how they are changing on marriage equality. If they understand the risks to their own futures, they will come over. Of course some will trust to god and the rapture, but most will hedge their bets. This is a very important bridge to build and should be encouraged.

  • c u n d gulag on May 11, 2013 3:49 PM:

    As long as ONE Liberal remains concerned, they'll be adamantly against doing anything about it.

    They'll continue to deny any problem exists, or if there is one, it isn't man-made, so there's nothing we can do about it anyway.

    It's like that old Civil War era illustration:
    There's and old white guy drowning in a river, and some young black kid is trying to save him, and the old man shouts something to the effect of, "No don't! I'd rather drown than be saved by a N*gger!!!"

    They'll die, thinking it was the sun spots, or cow farts, and that nothing could have saved us, except God - but the DFH's and Liberals pissed him off so much, he decided to off us all:
    Lock, Lot, stock, and barrel.

  • Citizen Alan on May 11, 2013 9:56 PM:

    Agreed. The Republican Party is a death cult. Half of them don't worry because they're religious lunatics and they think Jesus will show up to save them and theirs if things get bad enough. The other half simply don't care because they know they'll be dead before things get too bad and they're simply not capable of caring about anyone but themselves, not even their own children. To be a Republican is to be an enemy of the entire human race.

  • Rick B on May 12, 2013 5:43 AM:

    The highly negative view of both the Republicans and the extractive industries above are perfectly correct - for now. There is no predictable point at which that will change. That was similarly true for conservatives, racists and segregationists in the 1930's. The history of Southern Conservative Democrats in the 1930's to defeat FDR is quite eye-opening. But the surprise event of Pearl Harbor presented a whole new world of threat - and opportunities - to those idiots. The Cold War maintained that threat until the USSR collapsed.

    1989 has allowed the conservatives to reach a level where they can hold the nation hostage. A new Pearl Harbor will kill their power again. Like what? Half of Florida sinking under the Gulf, perhaps? New York City requiring a sea wall? A really bad hurricane season combined with a national drought? Whatever it is it will be a surprise when it happens. FOX and the Koch brothers will fight it and they will be smashed. The activists described above will take advantage of the opportunity just as the conservatives took advantage of the collapse of the USSR in 1989.

    Count on it. Whatever it will be it will have to scare the conservative base more than the conservative media can.

  • MuddyLee on May 12, 2013 8:55 AM:

    I was under the impression that the Koch brothers sort of controlled the political/economic thinking at George Mason U through their contributions. I am surprised that the institute founded by Bob Inglis is also at George Mason. Inglis is the only conservative from South Carolina I've ever heard (on public radio interviews) that sounds like he has both a brain and a heart. But I thought his big "sin" was he told people at a town meeting that they shouldn't listen to Glen Beck so much, but maybe this was in regard to the climate change issue.

  • Scarolina on May 12, 2013 11:07 PM:

    MuddyLee, good memory. I lived in the district the vast majority of my life (just left a few months ago). Inglis was pretty much toast before that comment. He is very conservative, but wouldn't throw "red meat" to the crowds. In reality, Gowdy is quite solutions oriented too, just more willing to play politics.