Opinion: The GOP’s climate strategy lacks an answer for fossil fuels

Planting trees is great, but ending fossil fuels needs to be the top target of any climate plan.


Wyatt Dlouhy

President Trump pauses during a speech at the Iowa GOP’s America First Dinner at the Ron Pearson Center in West Des Moines on June 11, 2019.

Elijah Helton, Opinions Editor

As someone who writes a lot about climate change, I don’t usually have a lot of reasons for optimism.

Sure, there’s Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, the Sunrise Movement, and the proposed Green New Deal — but most of the time, the chances of governmental action on the climate crisis are slim to none.

The most obvious barrier to substantial action is that the Republican Party has made it pretty clear that climate change is a nonissue, if it even exists at all. The current party platform hardly mentions climate change. The sparse mentions are in military and foreign policy contexts, and they dismiss any urgency.

“Climate change is far from this nation’s most pressing national security issue,” the platform says before supporting the further development of coal, oil, and natural gas.

This runs in direct conflict with actual national security experts. A 2019 Defense Department report insists on large-scale operations to protect assets from climate-change effects such as sea-level rise.

But this overdue Republican answer to the climate crisis still falls short.”

But the GOP can’t go on with climate denial forever, right?

Some members of the party seem to understand that the scientific reality can’t be ignored anymore. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., is a strident conservative and supporter of President Trump. But Gaetz is also a millennial and knows that some climate action is necessary.

“Climate denial is a bad political strategy,” he said to the right-wing Washington Examiner. “At some point, you have to be for something to fix it.”

So, what’s the GOP’s big plan? Help other countries to plant a trillion trees globally.

On the surface, that actually doesn’t sound so bad. Trees are an awesome carbon sink, nature’s way of sucking climate-change chemicals out of the air. Reforestation and afforestation definitely belong on anyone’s climate to-do list. It’d be nice to bolster the planet’s forestry, especially after the Amazon was burned last year.

The tree-rific plan has picked up enough traction in conservative circles that Trump lauded it in his State of the Union address earlier this month.

Until the GOP gets serious about going after the fossil-fuel industry, its environmental policy isn’t going to be that effective. ”

But this overdue Republican answer to the climate crisis still falls short.

Remember how they support the development of coal, oil, and natural gas? That’s still intact. Some party figures have gestured at funding for renewables, but the energy for that is more of a flicker than a surge.

Vox energy writer David Roberts summed it up best with his headline last week: “New conservative climate plans are neither conservative nor climate plans.”

Until the GOP gets serious about going after the fossil-fuel industry, its environmental policy isn’t going to be that effective. 

While it’s nice that there’s some movement (kind of), I’m afraid these smaller efforts are going to look substantial enough for a lot of people. The party won’t be pressured to actually reduce carbon emissions and work to get the U.S. and world off coal, oil, and natural gas.

I’ve written before about how environmental policy shouldn’t have to be this way. What’s good for the planet is what’s good for us. Real climate action — one that minimized carbon emissions as much as possible, as fast as possible — should be viewed as a win for basically every human being.

But until there’s a real sea change on the right, the sea levels are going to keep rising.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.

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