GOP could boost its prospects by joining climate-change fight

By JIM DIPESO, REP’s Policy Director

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: published in the Seattle Times on November 6, 2007.


The Republican Party faces troubling electoral prospects next year, here in Washington and nationwide.

A political opportunity is staring GOP candidates in the face, however. It’s climate change. That’s right. Republicans can take advantage of the issue that gave new life to Al Gore’s career, if they frame it carefully to attract both base voters and independents.

Polls show that a majority of Americans want to deal with global warming.

Consider this: In ruby-red South Carolina, one of the most conservative states in the country, a poll earlier this year by the GOP research firm Ayres McHenry & Associates found that 56 percent of Republican voters believe action should be taken now to address global warming.

The same poll found that more than half of those Republican voters believe that a shift to cleaner energy technologies will be good for the economy and will reduce America’s dependence on foreign energy sources.

Despite such intriguing poll results, Republican leaders, with the notable exception of John McCain, are still muddled about global warming — hemming and hawing about the causes and not making themselves clear on what ought to be done about it.

As a July cover story in National Review pointed out, the GOP has painted itself into a corner on this issue. This serves neither the Republican Party’s political interests nor the nation’s greater good.

Instead of letting Gore dominate the debate, Republicans should leverage the climate issue to press a broader strategy of bolstering security and growing the economy by rewiring national energy policy.

The mother country is showing the way. The British Conservative Party has made fighting global warming a centerpiece of its platform — not by me-tooing the competing Labor Party, but by holding out climate change as the economic opportunity of a lifetime.

As the Conservatives’ shadow environment secretary argued recently:

“Business ingenuity is a prerequisite to successfully tackling climate change.”

Given the right market signals, businesses will develop solutions that will create new opportunities to make money, as well as cut greenhouse-gas emissions and lessen the strategic dangers of overdependence on oil.

Business leaders know this.

That’s why CEOs like General Electric’s Jeff Immelt are pressing the federal government to adopt “cap-and-trade” climate legislation, which would reward businesses that achieve the most cost-effective greenhouse-gas-emissions reductions. Under this system, overall emissions would be capped and emissions allowances distributed to businesses. Companies that push their emissions down further and faster would accumulate surplus allowances that they could sell to other companies.

In a statement published earlier this year, the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, made up of name-brand companies like GE, Ford and Johnson & Johnson, said that a well-designed climate policy will create more opportunities than risks for the economy.

It will lead to innovation that drives greater energy efficiency, cutting costs and creating new markets.

It will enhance U.S. competitiveness and position the U.S. to assert global leadership on energy and environmental technology.

It will loosen dangerous ties that bind us to oil-producing oligarchies and ensnare us in their ancient blood feuds.

And, it would give new purpose and new vitality, grounded in traditional conservative values, to the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.

That’s what Republican candidates ought to be talking about. It’s smart. It’s conservative. And it’s the right thing to do.