The Ripon Forum

Volume 50, No. 5

November 2016

Climate Change is Occurring — It’s Time for Conservatives to Act

By on November 1, 2016

by NAN HAYWORTH

nan-hayworth-2If you’ve seen the extraordinary imagery that’s brought the other planets in the solar system into sharp focus, you can imagine flying through Saturn’s rings and looking deep into Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.

The intrepid little craft we’ve sent speeding into the universe have also looked back movingly at the planet to which they can never return. In those images, Earth is a bluish, gibbous blur, the Moon a nearby speck.

This precious blur in the vast darkness — this Blue Marble that first took our breath away when the men of Apollo 17 looked homeward from space — is all that we have. No one who considers the celestial improbability of our existing here, with continents and oceans and atmosphere miraculously calibrated to support our lives, can fail to appreciate that we should be the best possible stewards of this extraordinary home.

In recent years, we’ve witnessed reminders, both dramatic and subtle, that the Earth may be changing in ways that could make living here uncomfortable, inhospitable, or ultimately impossible. Scientists who study the Earth’s climate, including scientists from the National Academy of Science, have largely reached a consensus that the planet is warming[1]. They’ve gathered evidence indicating that the warming is changing our climate – melting glaciers, changing the composition and currents of the oceans, shifting the balance of wet and arid lands, and altering the patterns and intensity of cyclonic storms.

Scientists who study the Earth’s climate, including scientists from the National Academy of Science, have largely reached a consensus that the planet is warming.

Experts enumerating these phenomena have determined that severe weather has cost the United States over $1.1 trillion since President Reagan took office[2]. A new University of Idaho study attributes to climate change a doubling in the number of acres – up to 16,000 square miles – destroyed by forest fires during the past three decades, at a cost to federal taxpayers of $2.1 billion to fight these fires in 2015 alone[3].

Scientists have also reached a consensus that global warming and climate change are related to human activity.  Other factors may play a role, but human activity is important if not dispositive.

And human activity is something over which we have control.

Conservatives are rightly known for taking responsibility, for planning sensibly, and for acting to solve problems before they become catastrophes. When it comes to protecting our planetary home, it makes sense for conservatives to take the lead in addressing climate change.

The conservative approach relies on American innovation and intelligent, market-empowering, right-sized regulation. Consumer concern about climate change has created a large and growing marketplace for technologies and products that generate green energy, reduce emissions of carbon and other pollutants, and facilitate conservation. The United States has reduced greenhouse gas emissions to the lowest level since 1988[4] thanks primarily to the expansion of hydraulic fracturing, enabling the switch from coal to abundant, cheaper, and cleaner natural gas for heat and electricity.

Innovation is sorely needed as well in our country’s tax and regulatory policy. In the decades since passage of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, Congress created tax preferences first for the oil and gas industry, and later for other forms of energy generation. Exxon Mobil alone has earned near record annual profits of over $44 billion in recent years[5].  They don’t need a subsidy to survive. Indeed, the estimated $65 billion-plus that taxpayers would save over 10 years without oil-industry preferences[6] could and should go towards other innovations in an “all-of-the-above” energy and conservation portfolio.

The estimated $65 billion-plus that taxpayers would save over 10 years without oil-industry preferences  could and should go towards other innovations in an “all-of-the-above” energy and conservation portfolio.

Crucial to this portfolio is our nuclear industry, producing power with zero emissions at baseload scale irrespective of wind or weather – and with a compact footprint. Nuclear energy has gained strong proponents among eminent scientists and environmentalists, including James Hansen, who coined the term “climate change”[7]. We need to streamline permitting and facilitate construction of small-scale reactors. Completion of the Yucca Mountain spent fuel storage facility, on which U.S. ratepayers have already spent more than $30 billion, will remove a major obstacle to the expansion of this critical source of power.

Responding to climate change is driving the financial sector as well. Fifteen percent of the Standard & Poor’s 500 already factor a price on carbon into their financial strategies.  Insurers include climate modeling in product pricing[8].  Investors are designing portfolios that support reducing carbon emissions.

Conservatives should take the lead in crafting public policy that will reward consumers, investors, and industry for being good stewards of our planet. American innovation and prosperity have transformed the world more than once in our country’s history; it’s time now for us to help ensure that our history on this planet will not come to an ignominious end.

The Honorable Nan Hayworth is a member of the Board of Directors of ConservAmerica.  She previously represented the 19th District of New York in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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[1] https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/climate-trends-continue-to-break-records

[2] https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/

[3] http://www.idahostatesman.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/letters-from-the-west/article107301532.html

[4] http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=22372&src=email

[5] http://money.cnn.com/2013/02/01/news/companies/exxon-mobil-profit/

[6] http://www.taxpayer.net/library/article/understanding-oil-and-gas-tax-subsidies

[7] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/nuclear-power-must-make-a-comeback-for-climate-s-sake/

[8] https://www.greenbiz.com/article/5-signs-private-sector-stepping-climate-change

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