A national political convention is the first real chance for a political party to introduce its ideas and leaders to the country. Even though this election has been gearing up for 18 months, it’s only around now that Americans start paying attention.
The Republican National Convention is now over. The speeches have been made, the platform introduced, the balloons have been dropped. And if it hasn’t been obvious over the months, Americans now have a clear window into the GOP’s scary policies on energy and climate.
Let’s start with what some of the leading international energy experts and climate scientists are saying about the impending global warming tipping point we’re facing:
NASA climatologist James Hansen:
“Over the next several decades, the Western United States and the semi-arid region from North Dakota to Texas will develop semi-permanent drought, with rain, when it does come, occurring in extreme events with heavy flooding. Economic losses would be incalculable. More and more of the Midwest would be a dust bowl. California’s Central Valley could no longer be irrigated. Food prices would rise to unprecedented levels. If this sounds apocalyptic, it is.”
Fatih Birol, chief economist with the International Energy Agency:
“The door is closing. I am very worried — if we don’t change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever.”
Will Steffen, executive director of the Australian National University’s climate change institute:
“This is the critical decade. If we don’t get the curves turned around this decade we will cross those lines.”
In the lead up to the Republican National Convention, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that the U.S. had just experienced the hottest 12-month period on record and the hottest July ever recorded. So far this year, more than 27,000 high-temperature records have been broken or tied, beating cold record temperatures by 10 to 1 — five times the ratio of the last decade (if there were no warming, we’d see the same number of hot records and cold records). And throughout the summer, America faced record drought, record wildfires, and freak storms — all things that climate scientists warn will happen with increasing frequency and intensity.
Topping it all off, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported this week that Arctic sea ice had reached record lows — with temperatures in the region rising at twice the rate of the rest of the globe.
But as the evidence mounts and experts issue increasingly dire warnings about the need for immediate and swift reductions in carbon pollution, the Republican party dug its heels in on promotion of carbon-based fuels. Almost every speech on energy was devoted exclusively to increasing production of coal, oil, and gas — with the only mentions of renewable energy used to politicize the failed solar company Solyndra.
The only mention of climate in the party’s platform was to mock President Obama for including climate risk in national security planning:
“The strategy subordinates our national security interests to environmental, energy and international health issues, and elevates ‘climate change’ to the level of a ‘severe threat’ equivalent to foreign aggression. The word ‘climate,’ in fact, appears in the current President’s strategy more often than Al Qaeda, nuclear proliferation, radial Islam, or weapons of mass destruction. The phrase ‘global war on terror’ does not appear at all and has been purposely avoided and changed by his Administration to “overseas contingency operations.’”
In fact, a military advisory board under the Bush W. Administration concluded in 2007 that climate change “acts as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world” and “will add to tensions even in stable regions of the world.” The Pentagon agreed with that assessment, concluding that climate change will “place a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world.”
There was one other mention of climate change during the convention. Mitt Romney finished his acceptance speech by mocking Obama’s earlier promises to deal with the problem:
“President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans — [pauses for audience laughter] — and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”
Reacting to the resounding laughter among delegates to those comments, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes said the moment would someday “be in documentaries as a moment of just ‘what-were-they-thinking’ madness.”
What’s more mind-boggling is how swiftly the party has changed its stance on the issue. Not long ago, the Republican party actually seemed to understand the problem. Brad Plumer at the Wonk Blog has a piece looking at the differences in the 2008 and 2012 Republican platforms on climate and energy issues. The change is dramatic:
The 2008 platform went on to call for “technology-driven, market-based solutions that will decrease emissions, reduce excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, increase energy efficiency, mitigate the impact of climate change where it occurs, and maximize any ancillary benefits climate change might offer for the economy.”
This language didn’t just come out of nowhere. At the time, a handful of prominent Republican politicians appeared genuinely interested in tackling climate change. Then-Senator John Warner (R-Va.) was co-sponsoring legislation to reduce the country’s greenhouse-gas emissions. On the presidential campaign trail, John McCain was talking up his cap-and-trade program that would put a price on carbon. (McCain, for his part, was one of the earliest members of Congress to endorse this idea.)
The 2008 GOP platform certainly didn’t agree with liberals and environmentalists on everything. Far from it. The document put a heavy emphasis on nuclear power, which tends to cause some green groups to bristle (although many Democrats softened their opposition to atomic energy in the years that followed, in a failed effort to woo conservatives on climate policy). The platform also had harsh words for “doomsday climate change scenarios” and “no-growth radicalism.” Yet the 2008 GOP platform was, essentially, taking part in a debate over how best to tackle greenhouse gases — not about whether the climate was changing at all.
This week’s convention gave the national Republican party a chance to share its views with America. It’s now abundantly clear where the party stands on the most pressing issue of our time: climate change and renewable energy are something to be mocked, not seriously addressed.