President Obama, along with the heads of more than 150 other nations and 40,000 delegates from 195 countries, is in Paris for the talks that start this week to reach a global agreement to address climate change. One overarching goal of the Paris talks is to set the world on a path to achieve a low-carbon future – one in which cleaner, renewable energy sources gradually replace the burning of dirtier, carbon-based fuels such as coal, oil and gas, which contribute to global warming.
The reaction of Republican leaders in Congress and the leading Republican presidential candidates has been to do everything possible to try to undermine the success of the talks. Driven by ideology and by friends in the fossil fuel industry, the leaders of the Republican party have barreled along with their “just say no” climate approach despite poll after poll showing how out of step they are with public opinion. New polling released this week shows that two thirds of Americans want the U.S. to be part of an agreement hammered out in Paris. That may be because clear majorities of Americans now agree that the science is settled; human activity (primarily the burning of fossil fuels) is contributing to unnatural global warming. A couple of weeks ago Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate pushed through a vote to repeal the Administration’s Clean Power Plan, which would limit carbon pollution from power plants. The House is set to vote on a similar bill as early as today.
Senators who voted to kill the Clean Power Plan acted counter to the wishes of clear majorities of Americans who support it. What’s more, they were acting in vain; President Obama will veto the legislation, and the Republicans are not close to having the votes necessary to override the veto. Yet Republican leaders tout the vote as a sign the U.S. will not move forward on climate.
Tellingly, three Republican senators voted against their party and in support of limits on carbon pollution. Two of them – Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois – are among the most vulnerable Senate Republicans seeking reelection in 2016. Both are likely to face Democrats with strong environmental records.
Besides those votes, there is another sign that some Republicans recognize the widening gap between their climate posture and the public’s: the arguments being used against climate action are becoming ever more contorted. Republicans opposing climate action used to say that U.S. policy would have no impact on that of other countries. Now that the President’s forceful backing of the Clean Power Plan is clearly helping to spark more action abroad, Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are, stunningly, openly saying that other nations should not believe the U.S. will actually act. What’s the evidence they offer that the U.S. will not be good to its word? Well, it’s the Republicans’ own hapless efforts to block action.
And in a further twist, the Republican leaders then argue that U.S. action won’t have any actual impact on the climate. How so? Because no single U.S. action by itself will be enough to matter.
So Republicans like Mitch McConnell are telling other nations not to act because Republicans will try to block U.S. action, and they’re telling Americans to oppose U.S. action because other nations won’t act.
It’s a comprehensive effort to deny and then remake reality through verbal gamesmanship. But all the word play in the world won’t change how the planet reacts to rising greenhouse gas levels, and the public is aware of that.
David Goldston is the Director of Government Affairs at the NRDC Action Fund.
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