WASHINGTON – After denying the existence of climate change for a decade, many leading Republicans are changing attitudes amid deadly heatwaves, devastating droughts and wildfires that have battered their districts and unnerved their constituents at home.
Members of Congress who long insisted that the climate changes due to natural cycles have significantly corrected this view, with many now recognizing the solid science that emissions from burning oil, gas and coal have increased the temperature of the earth.
But their growing acceptance of the reality of climate change has not translated into support for the one strategy that scientists believed was essential to averting an even worse future in a key United Nations report this week: stopping fossil fuel burning.
Instead, Republicans want to spend billions preparing communities for extreme weather conditions, but are trying to block Democrats’ efforts to cut the emissions that fuel the disasters in the first place.
Dozens of Republicans in the House and Senate said in recent interviews that a quick switch to wind, solar and other clean energy will harm an economy that has been based on fossil fuels for more than a century.
“I’m not doing anything to increase the cost of living for American families,” said Senator Rick Scott of Florida, where climate-related disasters have cost the state more than $ 100 billion over the past decade, according to federal government estimates.
Mr Scott said he wanted to tackle climate change, but “you can’t do it where you kill jobs.”
It’s a poll-backed message that shows Republican voters care more about jobs than the environment. A poll by the Pew Research Center in May found that only 10 percent of Republican and Republican-minded Independents were deeply concerned about climate change, while a majority believed that President Biden’s ambitious plans to curb climate change would harm the economy.
Aside from young Republicans who campaigned for their party to take climate change more seriously, Conservative voters haven’t moved much on this issue in the past 10 years. That skepticism may have peaked with President Donald J. Trump, who famously mocked climate science, relaxed emissions regulations, and expanded oil and gas drilling on public land.
But as the effects of global warming become more apparent with each weather forecast, the message of Republicans and their allies has postponed. You’re arguing now for investments in research and development or technological solutions that are still years away from being feasible, such as cleaning the air after burning oil, gas and coal. Many are also in favor of expanding nuclear power, which does not generate greenhouse gases but poses other challenges, including the length of time it takes to build new facilities and concerns about spent fuel management and the risk of radioactive spills.
Some Republicans, like Senator Mitt Romney from Utah and Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, have said that they bill companies for the carbon they generate, a strategy that economists say creates a powerful incentive to cut emissions would. But neither of the two advocates such a measure with any urgency.
The majority of Republican lawmakers support less aggressive responses that are popular with their constituents, such as planting trees to absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or offering tax credits to companies that capture carbon dioxide after it’s from power plants or industrial plants was released into the air.
“What they oppose is any program to meaningfully reduce emissions,” said David G. Victor, co-director of the Deep Decarbonization Initiative at the University of California, San Diego.
Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy helped draft the $ 1 trillion infrastructure package that the Senate passed this week, ensuring it spanned billions of dollars to protect coastal states from the sea-level rise caused by climate change to protect. But Mr Cassidy said he will not support policies to stem the amount of oil that is being drilled off the Louisiana coast – the burning of which is helping to melt the ice caps and raise the seas.
“We can’t live without fossil fuels or chemicals, period, end of story,” said Cassidy, who plans to expand exports of liquefied natural gas, which is produced in Louisiana and emits half the carbon dioxide of coal, but a source of methane even stronger greenhouse gas in the short term.
And while Senator Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota, admitted that climate change is driving the extreme drought that devastated crops and decimated livestock in his state this summer, he said the gases produced by burning fossil fuels did so The aim should be, not the fuels themselves.
“We need to be on an anti-carbon mission, not an anti-fuel mission,” said Cramer, whose state is also a leading oil and gas producer.
Senator Marco Rubio, the Republican from Florida, said there was no point for the United States to cut its emissions while other countries like China continued to pollute the environment. At the same time, he also opposed trade policies that would put pressure on China and others to curb their emissions.
Still, the fact that Republicans are recognizing emissions as a problem is progress, albeit incremental, said Tom Moyer, the state’s coordinator for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which is trying to build bipartisan support for a carbon emissions tax. “Those are little bits of a solution, but it’s so much more than we could have got a few years ago,” he said. “And hopefully the trend will continue.”
Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, said of climate change last September, “I agree that it is happening and that it is a problem. It’s about how best to deal with it. “
Senator John Cornyn of oil and gas-rich Texas said in a July interview, “I have no doubt the climate is changing and people are contributing.” Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama said he believes weather disasters just happen, but “a lot of it, I’m sure, with all the stuff we put in the air, is homemade.”
Even Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican who once threw a snowball at the Senate to claim the planet wasn’t getting hotter, insisted last month that he never called climate change a “hoax”, only bad ones Consequences are exaggerated. (Mr. Inhofe is the author of a book entitled “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future”.)
“They don’t want to look like they’re denying science, but they don’t want to look like they’re against the free market and support regulation,” said Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University. “But the fact is that there is no solution without regulating and mandating the reduction of emissions. There is no magical, easy way that is just “innovation”. “
Democrats say the tools now exist to fend off a hotter planet: rapidly expand wind and solar power, strengthen energy storage and power grids, electrify traffic, and make buildings more energy efficient.
Many of these elements are contained in a $ 3.5 trillion budget package that Democrats intend to adopt this fall. The draft budget includes a tool called the Clean Electric Payment Program, designed to encourage utility companies to produce more and more electricity from low-carbon and carbon-free sources such as wind, solar and nuclear power.
If passed, it would be the most momentous climate law in United States history and would set the country on track to meet President Biden’s goal of roughly halving domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. But to get it through the evenly divided Congress any Democrat would have to support them, and at least two, Senator Joe Manchin of coal-rich West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have suggested they might oppose it.
Republican leaders, meanwhile, have made it clear that they will vote against the budget bill, arguing that it is too expensive and that regulations such as a clean electricity standard and the expansion of electric vehicles by the government will harm taxpayers and consumers.
Their messages strongly reflect the position of the major oil and gas companies who run advertising campaigns touting “technology innovation” in response to global warming.
“They recognize their role in climate change, but they want the public to believe they have the upper hand,” said Edward Maibach, director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, of the fossil fuel companies. “They say they are innovative, they are evolving, they have that. They don’t need politics – and the Republicans follow that cue.”
Behind the scenes in Washington, oil and gas enthusiasts continue to oppose emissions-reducing policies, particularly stricter mileage regulations that would prevent hundreds of billions of gallons of gas from being burned.
Most of these companies donate to Republicans. In the 2020 election cycle alone, oil, gas, coal mining and other energy companies gave the Republican Party $ 46 million. That’s more than the industries donated to Democrats over the past decade, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit group that tracks money in politics.
The $ 1 trillion infrastructure package, which the Senate passed by 69-30 votes on Tuesday, shows in many ways the limits of Republican action against climate change.
The package, which has yet to be approved by the House of Representatives, includes approximately $ 80 billion in programs to modernize the country’s electricity grid, create charging stations for electric vehicles, and research new clean energy technologies. It provides more than $ 12 billion in carbon capture and storage technologies that, if commercialized on a large scale, could extend the life of fossil fuel power plants; and $ 2.5 billion to develop a new generation of nuclear reactors.
Any provision that prescribes the reduction of fossil fuels or their emissions has been omitted. Nineteen Republicans, including the minority leader, voted for the bill.
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