Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

On climate change, a destructive pattern reasserts itself

The Obama administration is announcing a bold new initiative to address climate change, calling upon states to implement policies that would reduce carbon emissions from power plants by 32 percent by 2030. The new rules are certain to set off years of political and legal fights, beginning of course with the 2016 presidential campaign.

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, backs the Obama initiative, while major Republican candidates are uniformly critical. Asserting that "facts matter," for example, Ted Cruz matter-of-factly denied last week that the planet is warming or that mankind could plausibly play in any role in that change. Marco Rubio has taken a similar position, and among the top GOP candidates only Jeb Bush has tip-toed up to the line of admitting that mankind might be playing a role in heating the planet.

It's odd. In polling, Republican voters are hardly uniform in their denial of climate change, with substantial GOP minorities disagreeing with the party's most conservative wing on the issue. (See here and here and here.) But as on many other issues, that conservative wing is allowed to dictate the limits of acceptable Republican opinion, to the point that climate-change denial has become a central tenet of Republican tribalism. And so far, NOAA reports and an ongoing string of broken heat records haven't been able to overcome it.

The result is the same as that on health care, the Iran nuclear agreement and too many other policy questions.  Republicans bitterly, virulently oppose the Obama plan, asserting that it will produce immense disasters. They promise to block its implementation by any means available to them. Yet even after decades of contentious debate on the issue, they offer the country no alternative solution or course of action, and in the case of climate change they basically deny that a problem even exists.

And as with health care, that attitude persists even though the Obama administration has embraced what used to be a Republican proposal, in this case a market-based, cap-and-trade system, as a central feature in its plan to bring greenhouse emissions down. The basic approach was advanced by conservatives some 40 years ago, and as recently as 2008, a plan much like that now proposed by Obama was part of John McCain's presidential platform.

Unfortunately, the days in which the GOP could actually propose ideas and accept compromises are long past. Now they are capable only of "no."


*In the 2000 campaign, former Texas oil man George W. Bush ran on a promise to regulate carbon dioxide and other gasses linked to manmade climate change, a position that he reversed once elected.  Instead, he offered a voluntary program, with the proviso that "If, in 2012, we find that we are not on track toward meeting our goal, and sound science justifies further policy action, the United States will respond with additional measures that may include a broad, market-based program as well as additional incentives and voluntary measures designed to accelerate technology development and deployment."

It is now three years past that deadline.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.