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Yielding the Moral High Ground ” Part II

In Part I, we saw how conservatives were turning their backs on the moral issue of our time — global warming.

Here we’ll examine the many reasons conservatives should share ownership of this issue. Global warming and its solutions involve issues that are important to conservatives, progressives, Independents and even political agnostics. For example:

National security: “Climate change can act as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world, and it presents significant national security challenges for the United States,” 11 retired admirals and generals concluded in a security analysis last April. “The increasing risks from climate change should be addressed now because they will almost certainly get worse if we delay.”

Jobs: The global need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is arguably the biggest entrepreneurial opportunity the United States has known. Billions of the world’s people need access to clean energy, a market of unprecedented scale. Here in the United States, according to an analysis by the Management Information Services in Washington, D.C., energy efficiency and renewable energy can create 40 million jobs by mid-century, at skill levels stretching from entry level to the highly technical.

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Competitiveness: Two of the fastest-growing renewable energy technologies today — solar electric cells and wind turbines — were invented in the United States, but we gave up our lead to Japan, Germany and Denmark — and China! We need to get it back. America remains the world’s top innovator; unleashing that talent is a key to our economic security in a post-carbon world. If we want to be the global market leader in green technologies, little steps and tentative leadership won’t do the job. As Sam Walton said in building his business empire: “Incrementalism is innovation’s worst enemy. We don’t want continuous improvement; we want radical change.”

Conservation: A long-time theme among some progressive Republican leaders has been the need to put “conserve” back into “conservatism.” Says Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich: “The group that I believe is the future of the American conservative movement and indeed the future of American politics are those who favor a green conservatism.” As governor of California, Ronald Reagan got it, too. There is an “absolute necessity of waging all-out war against the debauching of the environment,” he said in 1970 as American celebrated the first Earth Day. Since Teddy Roosevelt, presidents of both parties have stated a commitment to the health of the environment and, more recently, the climate.

Freedom: “The real inconvenient truth about climate change,” says Republican Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, “is that some people are losing their rights and freedoms because of the actions of others — in either the quality of the air they breathe, the geography they hold dear, the insurance costs they bear or the future environment of the children they love.”

Family: As Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) put it to Couric: “Let me put it this way to you. Suppose I’m wrong, there’s no such thing as climate change, we adopt green technologies. Then we’ve just left our kids a better world. Suppose I am right and we do nothing? Then what kind of planet have we handed to our children?”

[JR Note: I actually think that is a weak argument by McCain, which I’ll blog on later. In short, this isn’t a matter of whether McCain is right or wrong, but whether the observations and research of thousands of scientists is right or wrong.]

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America’s Obligation to Lead: “The nations of the world must make common cause in defense of our environment,” President George H.W. Bush said on Sept. 9, 1989. “And I promise you this: This nation, the United States of America, will take the lead internationally.”

The silence from the conservatives running for the GOP nomination (other than McCain) can’t be blamed on a paucity of ideas. Any candidates looking to build a climate platform can turn, among other places, to the Presidential Climate Action Plan — more than 300 specific proposals for the next President to implement during his or her first 100 days. TIME magazine calls it “The Global Warming Playbook.”

Many of its proposals could have come from the Republican caucus: $1 billion in incentive awards for breakthrough technologies, small business development as the engine to move technologies to market, an end to energy subsidies that amount to corporate welfare, carbon pricing to put some magic back into the marketplace, and even the elimination of the U.S. Department of Energy in favor of a smaller and more nimble agency.

Back in 2005, before they threw their hats in the ring for the presidency, McCain and Clinton made a joint visit to Alaska to witness the effects of climate change first hand, sending the signal that this is an issue that both parties should embrace.So far, the rest of the GOP’s presidential hopefuls are avoiding the embrace. Freedom, morality, competitiveness, a healthy economy, national security — they all are traditional conservative issues. They also happen to be climate-action issues. Do conservatives really want to give them up for adoption?

— Bill B.