It's easy to find despair. The poster child is a Republican Congressman from South Carolina who lost his 2010 primary battle because of backlash for his stance on climate change both existing and being man-made. He was on the House Subcommittee for Energy and Environment that got "Burn Noticed" for its lack of common sense on science basics.
But Enviro(ish) is extremely anti-despair. I'm a believer in MLK Jr's quote that the arc of the moral universe is long, but bends towards justice. And the first step we take is acknowledging the truth. It's been a few years, so I checked up on that Congressman Bob Inglis, and checked in with an energy initiative in Washington D.C. led by four-star generals. Seeing conservatives not just having discussions but taking policy action regarding climate change gives me incredible amounts of hope. Here's the EcoPartyDownload on conservative solutions for climate change. Yes, you read that right.....conserve IS the root for both conservation AND conservative....is it not? (See what I did there?? Boom!)
1) NATIONAL SECURITY. The common sense that goes along with this one is staggering. So let's unpack the connection between national security and climate change before we hit the solutions taking place:
- Dependence on foreign oil is a security risk. Anyone who lived during the 70s remembers the OPEC oil embargo and the economic slowdown that resulted in skyrocketing prices of oil. These things tend to happen when 90% of a resource is controlled by a small, organized group of countries. It's *not* by coincidence that the 1970s had a heightened environmental awareness in the U.S.A.....it was the decade of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act and creation of a consolidated Department of Energy because if you can't fill up your gas tank whenever you need to, you start to care a LOT. Thanks to the DOE I can also say the following: our cost of energy is 8-9% of GDP. In short, we need lots of energy and it costs us a lot!
- Our military spends $400 per gallon in war zone. Thanks to an awesome bipartisan panel at SXSW Eco, I better understand the fully burdened cost of fuel in our military. But it's pretty easy to figure out (enter: common sense!). Think about how much energy our war military infrastructure need to operate bases, machinery, etc. Think about how we have to move that fuel without the use of pipelines or fixed infrastructure. Think about the cost of moving and protecting our fuel source not only in terms of dollars, but also in terms of lives. You get to the fully burdened cost per gallon pretty quick. That's a LOT of monetary (and moral) reasons to find alternative sources of energy and to stretch every ounce we do have.
- Climate change is a "threat multiplier". Our Department of Defense is now integrating climate change risks into operations and strategic planning....because let's face it...things like rising sea levels, more extreme weather events, food shortages and mass refugees don't only impact our supply chain, but also the stability of other nations and the needs for our military to respond in a crisis. The military deployment for ebola is unconnected to climate change, but a good indicator of the broadness of their mission and need for readiness.
So in the face of this connection what are the conservative solutions? Let's hear from the nonpartisan Securing America's Future Energy which has a distinguished board of four star generals. Not the first group that springs to mind for "educating policymakers and advocating for comprehensive energy reform".
Their solutions are straightforward enough: increase efficiency, reduce road congestion, increase public transportation, increase fuel diversity (hello EVs!), and increase domestic production. That last one may irk my environmentalist friends, but the increased production of natural gas does have its benefits for climate change. And to bring the energy-security nexus in full circle....the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at DOE cites reducing net oil imports by 50% as one of it's top four goals. It's all an interconnected eco/security web.
In the encouraging land of solutions, SAFE helped successfully advocate for Defense Production Act funds to go to advanced biofuels in a partnership between the Depts of the Navy, Agriculture and Energy because "America's growing dependence on foreign sources of crude oil undermines foreign policy objectives and comes at an ever increasing impact to the nation's trade imbalance." Word. I mean....
2) INCREASING FREE ENTERPRISE. There's a little secret that peeps on the left talk about all the time and only a few peeps on the right talk about: oil and gas subsidies. That's right...those poor corporate citizens that are posting record breaking annual earnings (up from $23B to $80B), record breaking quarterly profits ($51.5B), and are pumping $70M into our politics (up from $15M)....we give them many different kinds of BIG outs from the taxman to the tune of $4.9B per year ($18.5B by some estimates). Let's do the math together....that's saying American taxpayers are subsidizing the most profitable industry we've got and giving 10% of their annual profits in tax breaks. Enriching the rich. I like to call that corporate welfare.
And suppress the instinct to say maybe these subsidies exist for a reason. The subsidies aren't structured that way. These corporate tax breaks for oil and gas have been studied and are uncorrelated to U.S. production levels. They are not correlated to new technologies or pollution-reducing technologies. They are indiscriminate of price fluctuations and apply even when oil is the most profitable. This is the kind of big government spending that should engage the most fiscally conservative among us (or incite a riot? dare to dream?)
And it has. Except on the riot part. Remember that Congressman that lost his seat for saying that climate change is man-made? Well he can be found as Executive Director of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, a "campaign to unleash the power of free enterprise to deliver the fuels of the future....E&EI promotes conservative alternatives to big government mandates and fickle tax incentives". That's right peeps, there's a safe place for the conservative voice on energy and climate issues nowadays. Hallelujah!
There's something fantastic and wonderful about conservative voices participating in the conversation....the solution E&EI advocates for is the most economically efficient solution around: a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Get over the word "tax" for a hot second (pun intended!) and recognize the fact that this is a market-based solution. A market based solution that is structured to account for what is currently a market externality (carbon pollution). It's the exact best solution I studied in Environmental Economics a decade ago....and now a conservative policy center is advocating for it. Let us rejoice!
Let's connect the dots together on this one....if we stopped giving oil companies tax breaks and applied the true cost to society for the environmental and health impacts of our different fuels, we'd use the power of the market to drive the economy towards lower polluting sources of energy without growing the Federal government at all.
Now THAT'S a conversation I would love to have with all political stripes. And the fact that conservatives are trying gives me enormous hope. Watch Congressman Inglis explain it to CNN Money and let me know what you think....did this improve your view of climate change? Change the conversation on conservation?