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I'm Not a Politician - Though I Might be Politic

By: Dr. Ricky Rood, 7:17 PM GMT on November 04, 2015

I'm Not a Politician - Though I Might be Politic

This is a continuation of a series preparing for The Conference of the Parties - 21 (COP21) in Paris. COP21 is the next of the annual meetings that are part of the governing body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

In the first in the series, I started to discuss how things might be different going into COP21 than they were in 2009. I repeat them here:

In Building Momentum for COP21 (recording) the importance of the convergence of the moral, spiritual, and ethical imperatives, with scientific imperatives, and economic imperatives is an important difference from previous COPs.

Of course, these imperatives have been around for some time, and they have not been great enough to be transformative. There are other factors that I believe are worth mentioning. First, my anecdotal observation is that more and more people, corporations, and countries are internalizing the observed, rapid changes to the Earth’s climate. The observations from the Arctic are most definitive. Second, the role of climate as a threat multiplier in the California drought, Alaskan wildfires, and the Syrian refuge crisis is an increasingly understood issue. Third, again anecdotally, high-profile businesses and their press coverage are changing the reality and the perception of where business sits on climate change. Fourth, though there remains organized opposition, the statements look increasingly hollow and blatantly political, and climate denial as a business decision becomes obvious to all. Climate change is becoming an issue that many see as real in their day-to-day activities and in the world; young people who are environmentally literate and politically aware are assuming their roles in the world.

In the comments on that blog, people said they did not share my subdued optimism. So, in this series, I have been trying to make my arguments a little more convincing – plus setting up a nice set of references. So far, I have written about a business and finance perspective and the more organized presence of religious perspectives. This blog is about changes in U.S. national politics.

I will save the discussion of President Obama’s policy decisions for a later entry, but I do want to start with today’s (November 3, 2015) news about the Keystone Pipeline. First, TransCanada has asked the U.S. to pause the review of the pipeline permits. Second, President Obama has said he will make a decision about the Keystone Pipeline before he leaves office. There are many complex policy factors playing in these two articles, one of which is the low price of oil. One of the factors contributing to the low price of oil is the emergence of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) technology. I wrote an analysis on fracking on climate change back in 2012, and, well, I think I missed an important point or two. It is interesting, however, to think about how fracking might contribute to the policy opportunity associated with the Keystone pipeline, which has become a touchstone climate-change policy issue in the U.S.

OK, What is different in U.S. national politics?

Perhaps taking on a role similar to Richard Cizak’s Evangelical position, former Republican South Carolina Congressman Bob Inglis started to speak out strongly about climate change and energy policy in, about, 2010. It helped to assure that he was not re-elected. Inglis’s message was that a full accounting of energy costs, including the absence of subsidies, would lead to a move away from fossil fuels. In an interview with e360.yale.edu, Inglis stated that his children’s admonitions started his thinking about climate change.

Interesting to me, another South Carolinian, Lindsey Graham, senator and presidential candidate, has taken the position that climate change is an issue that Republicans must, first, acknowledge as real, then participate in developing solutions, including moving away from fossil-fuel based energy systems. Graham’s entry into climate change is through energy policy. In an op-ed in the New York Times, Graham and John Kerry laid out economic, national security, energy security, and competiveness arguments. This op-ed was prior to the 2009 Copenhagen, Conferences of the Parties. Graham, unlike many other Republicans, has not backed off on his position of the need to address climate change. 2012 Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney tried to put climate change into the Republican conversation in January 2015. My point, here, there is some persistence of message.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both taken positions opposing the Keystone Pipeline. (My former students would require me to point out, Sanders has been publically opposed to the Keystone Pipeline for a long time.) In this case, the Democratic candidates are walking away from their equivocation, suggesting they don’t see climate change as a high-risk issue.

In want seems influenced by the Pope’s visit, Republican Congressman Charles Gibson and 10 Republican congressman introduced a resolution to address environmental stewardship. The Resolution aims to express “the commitment of the House of Representatives to conservative environmental stewardship.” The resolution:

“Resolved, That the House of Representatives commits to working constructively, using our tradition of American ingenuity, innovation, and exceptionalism, to create and support economically viable, and broadly supported private and public solutions to study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates, including mitigation efforts and efforts to balance human activities that have been found to have an impact.”

Not that Speaker Ryan will bring this resolution to the floor for a vote, there is some crumbling in the political wall that grew during the George W. Bush administration. Numerous polls and articles point to the emergence of climate change as a recognized issue amongst conservative republicans. What might be viewed as liberal media, The Huffington Post, maintains that the Republican presidential candidates are in conflict with their constituency.

Scientific American published an article with the Republican presidential candidates. They quote Marco Rubio: “But here’s the bottom line, we’re not going to destroy our economy the way our left-wing government now wants to do,” Rubio said. “Every proposal they put forward are going to be proposals that will make it harder to do business in America, that will make it harder to create jobs in America.” Increasingly, to me, such comments sound like hollow politics, a position made more real by revelations of Exxon’s management of the climate-change message for business reasons.

The publishing of the revelations of Exxon’s management of the climate-change message is part of the run up to COP21, however, it was known to many of us at the time (see, Global Climate Science Communications Plan (1998)). Shortly after George W. Bush was elected, Exxon lobbyist, Randy Randol, sent a memo to the White House to fire leading climate-change scientists in the government, Bob Watson, Rosina Bierbaum, and Mike MacCracken. In June of 2001, President Bush gave a speech with the following quote, “Climate change, with its potential to impact every corner of the world, is an issue that must be addressed by the world.” (see speech) As the Bush administration evolved, and the 2008 election came to the horizon, many environmentally astute Republicans took positions against climate change, which required all sorts of political contortions.

That’s it. I feel that the foothold gained for the importance of climate change in the U.S. political arena is substantive. The disruptions will persist; however, I don’t think they will carry the day. This is different from 2009, when, by early November, it was clear that the Copenhagen COP would not come to much.


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The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.