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August 12, 2013

A Welcome (But Less Than Candid) Case for Climate Action

SmogI'm sure many of you saw "A Republican Case for Climate Action," a signed op-ed piece that ran in the August 1st NY Times. No sensible environmentalist would fail to take heart when four former EPA administrators, all of them officials who served in Republican administrations, state that there is no longer any credible scientific debate about climate change, that action can't wait, and that congressional leaders should both support President Obama's proposed administrative actions on  climate and start the debate over the bigger steps we will need to avert catastrophic warming.

But even as I applaud, I'm struck by the bizarreness of a political landscape where Republican officials' simple acknowledgement that we should listen to climate scientists about climate science -- and actually do something -- is newsworthy. Today's Republican politics is life imitating a Vonnegut novel -- think Slaughterhouse-5's bitterly comic take on the WWII firebombing of Dresden, Germany -- and when the very ability of government to function depends on a House dominated by antigovernment zealots and a Senate paralyzed by GOP filibusters, life imitating a Vonnegut novel isn't funny, it's terrifying.

House Speaker Boehner called the proposal for new carbon regulations "absolutely crazy." Senate Minority Leader McConnell ripped the president's "war on coal." Senator Inhofe, ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, has called climate change "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated." All three men's statements reflect the general  posture of a Republican congressional delegation that's been staggeringly irresponsible about climate. Those three men aren't some crazy backbenchers -- they're crazy chosen leaders.

Don't misunderstand. I'm genuinely grateful that four former officials from Republican administrations told the truth about the science and called for action. But in failing to even mention many congressional Republicans' open skepticism (and worse) about climate disruption-- in ignoring House efforts to stop even the basic climate research we need just to know what's happening -- the four former EPA officials failed to tell the truth about  the worst poltical obstacles to getting deep cuts in carbon emissions. And in calling upon generic "congressional leaders" to support President Obama's proposals, they implied that Representative Pelosi or Senator Reid or Senator Boxer pose the same threat to presidential action that Speaker Boehner or Senator McConnell or Senator Inhofe do --  which is absurd.

When a planet is literally at risk of environmental catastrophe, this kind of polite but timid evasion matters. I thank Mr. Reilly, Mr. Thomas, Mr. Ruckelshaus and Ms. Whitman for standing up, but it's long past time to tell the whole truth, to hold elected skeptics, deniers and obstructionists accountable, and to name names. A real Republican case for climate action needs to begin by acknowledging the obvious -- that taking the "bigger steps on climate" these former EPA officials call for will depend upon politicans like Boehner, Inhofe and McConnell either undergoing drastic changes of heart or -- perhaps more plausibly -- losing power.

-- David Scott, Sierra Club President


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