Former Treasury Secretary and current Republican Henry "Hank" Paulson made news last month when he wrote an op-ed for the New York Times acknowledging the seriousness of the threat that global warming poses to mankind, while simultaneously proposing a carbon tax that would incentivize solutions to the problem.The carbon tax in itself is not a new proposal. What made Paulson's opinion piece newsworthy was the rare spectacle of a prominent Republican sounding the alarm about climate change and making a concrete proposal to deal with it.
Why is such an event so rare? Granted, other Republicans have expressed deep concern about climate change, and even lobbied their fellow party members to support legislative remedies. But Paulson and former EPA administrators William Ruckelshaus, Lee Thomas, William Reilly and Christine Whitman are the exceptions in their party, not the rule. Mainstream Republican leaders and their constituents seem perfectly content to blithely stand by as glaciers and polar ice caps melt around us at unprecedented rates. Or worse, they actively undermine and oppose any actions Democrats take to mitigate the risks and impacts of a warming world. There has even been talk of another government shutdown due to Republican opposition to the Obama administration's new EPA rules, designed to rein in the biggest carbon emitters in the utility industry.
You would think that most Republicans might notice little things like disappearing glaciers at Glacier National Park, collapsing ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, and the simple fact that 13 of the 14 hottest years ever recorded all happened to occur in our young new century. A child just born will likely watch sea levels rise by three feet in his or her lifetime.
Republicans claim concern over the fiscal debt we leave future generations, yet I can't recall hearing any propose a method of paying for the wars we've been embroiled in over the past decade. Moreover, beyond the well-informed insiders previously identified, few Republicans willingly discuss the environmental debt we are bequeathing future generations.
Acknowledging the reality that carbon pollution is warming the planet means accepting responsibility for the sources of that pollution and its consequences. Since so many Republicans ideologically oppose government action (unless it involves the military, perhaps), their playbook is somewhat limited when it comes to climate change.
First, they tried claiming it wasn't happening. Then they claimed human activity wasn't the cause. Recently, their last resort argument has become 'It's too late to do anything now; and besides, look at China's and India's increasing emissions.'
It's interesting to hear the party of "personal responsibility" use this particular argument. Why is it that 'personal responsibility' is so important when proposing cuts to social welfare programs, but not important at all when discussing carbon pollution?
You can see the intellectual bind Republicans have put themselves in, and their consequent need to deny the reality that is staring all of us in the face. Some even go so far as to claim global warming is a "hoax," perpetrated by scientists bent on defrauding the government of research money and "controlling every aspect of our lives."
It's an ironic accusation in light of the fossil fuel industry having spent millions to fund think tanks and research intended to discredit climate science. Perhaps most ironic is the conclusion reached by a scientist who accepted funding from billionaire conservative activists Charles and David Koch to conduct a broad analysis of climate data. In July, 2012, Richard Mueller wrote, "Call me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I'm now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause."
The Republican Party was founded 160 years ago with the noble intention of abolishing slavery, the great injustice of its day. Sadly, that praiseworthy party has devolved into one largely comprised of rigid ideologues who prioritize opposition to a popularly elected president over the good of the nation and their own children.
The best way to defeat such single-minded intransigence is at the ballot box this November, and yet again in 2016. As long as Republican politicians continue being the 'Party of No,' or as long as they merely acknowledge the existence of global warming but slow-walk solutions like George W. Bush did, they do not deserve to hold office.
To be given responsibility, they must first demonstrate that they truly believe in personal responsibility. They can start by raising taxes to pay for the wars they have already voted for. Might I suggest a carbon tax?
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