Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Road to Denial: How the Republican Platform on Climate Change Evolved, 1992-2012

This weekend, I wrote a diary about the evolving Democratic position on Social Security, analyzing the language used in the party platforms in the past three elections.  
Another issue worthy of such analysis is the Republican relationship with climate change.  The issue of climate change first appeared in the 1992 platform and received lip service, at least, in every platform until this past year.
The 1992 platform addressed climate change in its Environment section.
The discussion begins with an implicit acceptance of the reality of climate change.  Why else invest in research? (Unless you want to invest in entomologists who claim to be climate experts...
Because the environment knows no boundaries, President Bush has accelerated U.S. research on global climate change, spending $2.7 billion in the last three years and requesting $1.4 billion for 1993, more than the rest of the world put together. Under his leadership, we have assisted nations from the Third World to Eastern Europe in correcting the environmental damage inflicted by socialism. We proposed a worldwide forestry convention and gave almost half a billion dollars to forest conservation. We won debt-for-nature swaps and environmental trust funds in Latin America and the Caribbean. We secured prohibitions against unilateral export or dumping of hazardous waste. We led the international ban on trade in ivory, persuaded Japan to end driftnet fishing, streamlined response to oil spills, and increased environmental protection for Antarctica.
After that, the rhetoric shifts a bit.  The party still acknowledges the reality of climate change--a "common concern of mankind" but presents the ubiquitous environment vs. economy frame that Republicans and even many Democrats still use.  The discussion also makes use of a form of nationalistic populism--sticking it to the "international bureaucrats" with their "anti-American demands."
Adverse changes in climate must be the common concern of mankind. At the same time, we applaud our President for personally confronting the international bureaucrats at the Rio Conference. He refused to accept their anti-American demands for income redistribution and won instead a global climate treaty that relies on real action plans rather than arbitrary targets hostile to U.S. growth and workers.
Again, we have the use of hyperbole in predicting job losses and cynicism about the effectiveness of climate treaties.  Climate change is acknowledged, but as a second-rate problem that should only be addressed in a way that does not mess with the status quo.
Following his example, a Republican Senate will not ratify any treaty that moves environmental decisions beyond our democratic process or transfers beyond our shores authority over U.S. property. The Democrats' national candidates, on the other hand, insist the U.S. must do what our foreign competitors refuse to do: abolish 300,000 to 1,000,000 jobs to get a modest reduction in "greenhouse gases."
Environmental progress must continue in tandem with economic growth. Crippling an industry is no solution at all. Bankrupt facilities only worsen environmental situations. Unemployment is a form of pollution too, poisoning families and contaminating whole communities.
Some in our own country still refuse to face those facts. They try to hijack environmentalism, making it anti-growth and anti-jobs. Although the average family of four now pays $1,000 a year for environmental controls, liberal Democrats want to tighten the squeeze. They use junk science to foster hysteria instead of reason, demanding rigid controls, more taxes, and less resource production.  
The environmental section then goes on to criticize "junk science"--although not highlighting which issues against which they are railing--and pledges to use "scientifically respectable risk-benefit assessments."  That looks suspiciously like weasel language.
Overall, in 1992, then, the party acknowledged that there was a problem--one that even required global action--but wanted to do as little as possible to address it.
The party's position in 1996 was largely the same:
The United States should continue its commitment to addressing global climate change in a prudent and effective manner that does not punish the U.S. economy. Despite scientific uncertainty about the role of human activity in climate change, the Clinton Administration has leapfrogged over reasoned scientific inquiry and now favors misdirected measures, such as binding targets and timetables, imposed only on the United States and certain other developed countries, to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Republicans deplore the arbitrary and premature abandonment of the previous policy of voluntary reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. We further deplore ceding U.S. sovereignty on environmental issues to international bureaucrats and our foreign economic competitors.
The language accepts of the need for climate change action but peddles skepticism that borders on (without fully touching) denialism.  The party continues its nationalistic populism ("international bureaucrats"), preference for weak action ("voluntary"), and demotion of climate as an issue because of its implicit threat to American-style capitalism ("foreign economic competitors.")
The 2000 platform continued the same dominant frames: (1) Reducing greenhouse gases is something we should do, (2) BUT we think the science is still out there, (3) AND we don't really like binding action, especially when it's international.
As environmental issues become increasingly international, progress will increasingly depend on strong and credible presidential leadership. Complex and contentious issues like global warming call for a far more realistic approach than that of the Kyoto Conference. Its deliberations were not based on the best science; its proposed agreements would be ineffective and unfair inasmuch as they do not apply to the developing world; and the current administration is still trying to implement it, without authority of law. More research is needed to understand both the cause and the impact of global warming. That is why the Kyoto treaty was repudiated in a lopsided, bipartisan Senate vote. A Republican president will work with businesses and with other nations to reduce harmful emissions through new technologies without compromising America's sovereignty or competitiveness — and without forcing Americans to walk to work.
The 2004 budget addressed climate change both in the section on energy (Ensuring an Affordable, Reliable, More Independent Energy Supply) and one on climate change (in the larger environmental section).
The energy section was, for the most part, a paean to fossil fuels; however, in laying the case for nuclear power, the party touted its "emissions-free" status as a way to help address climate change.  (They'd support it regardless, and nuclear power has plenty of issues.
Nuclear power provides America with affordable, emissions-free energy. We believe nuclear power can help reduce our dependence on foreign energy and play an invaluable role in addressing global climate change. President Bush supports construction of new nuclear power plants through the Nuclear Power 2010 initiative, and continues to move forward on creating an environmentally sound nuclear waste repository.
The 2004 platform also contained a short section directly on climate change, again acknowledging the need for action, maintaining the environment vs. economy frame, and asserting the preference for (toothless) voluntarism:
Republicans are committed to meeting the challenge of long-term global climate change by relying on markets and new technologies to improve energy efficiency. These efforts will help reduce emissions over time while allowing the economy to grow. Our President and our Party strongly oppose the Kyoto Protocol and similar mandatory carbon emissions controls that harm economic growth and destroy American jobs.
Between the 2004 and 2008 elections, the political landscape regarding climate changed.  Majornewspapers published significantly more stories on climate change, partly fueled by the release of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth (2006).  A larger share of the public began to believe (correctly) that global warming had already begun.
The 2008 Republican platform addresses climate change both more extensively and more seriously than any previous platform for the party.
The section on infrastructure emphasized the inclusion of climate change when reviewing permits:
Restoring Our Infrastructure
...At the same time, we are committed to minimizing transportation's impact on climate change, our local environments, and the nation's energy use. Careful reforms of environmental reviews and the permitting process should speed projects to completion.
Although in the context of “security” and “energy independence,” rather than climate change, the energy section discussed the importance of renewables:
Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Hydropower
Alternate power sources must enter the mainstream. The technology behind solar energy has improved significantly in recent years, and the commercial development of wind power promises major benefits both in costs and in environmental protection. Republicans support these and other alternative energy sources, including geothermal and hydropower, and anticipate technological developments that will increase their economic viability. We therefore advocate a long-term energy tax credit equally applicable to all renewable power sources.
Republicans support measures to modernize the nation's electricity grid to provide American consumers and businesses with more affordable, reliable power. We will work to unleash innovation so entrepreneurs can develop technologies for a more advanced and robust United States transmission system that meets our growing energy demands.
It also stressed the need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels through energy efficiency and fuel-efficient vehicles:  
Reducing Demand for Fossil Fuels
While we grow our supplies, we must also reduce our demand — not by changing our lifestyles but by putting the free market to work and taking advantage of technological breakthroughs.
Increase Conservation through Greater Efficiency
Conservation does not mean deprivation; it means efficiency and achieving more with less. Most Americans today endeavor to conserve fossil fuels, whether in their cars or in their home heating, but we can do better. We can construct better and smarter buildings, use smarter thermostats and transmission grids, increase recycling, and make energy-efficient consumer purchases. Wireless communications, for example, can increase telecommuting options and cut back on business travel. The Republican goal is to ensure that Americans have more conservation options that will enable them to make the best choices for their families.
New Technologies for Cars and Other Vehicles
We must continue to develop alternative fuels, such as biofuels, especially cellulosic ethanol, and hasten their technological advances to next-generation production. As America develops energy technology for the 21st century, policy makers must consider the burden that rising food prices and energy costs create for the poor and developing nations around the world. Because alternative fuels are useless if vehicles cannot use them, we must move quickly to flexible fuel vehicles; we cannot expect necessary investments in alternative fuels if this flexibility does not become standard. We must also produce more vehicles that operate on electricity and natural gas, both to reduce demand for oil and to cut CO2 emissions.
Given that fully 97 percent of our current transportation vehicles rely on oil, we will aggressively support technological advances to reduce our petroleum dependence. For example, lightweight composites could halve the weight and double the gas mileage of cars and trucks, and together with flex-fuel and electric vehicles, could usher in a renaissance in the American auto industry.
Of course, the energy section also touted the pipe dream of “clean coal” and, as the 2004 platform did, used the low emissions of nuclear power as a selling point.  The mantra of "energy independence" also means more natural gas and more oil drilling--to both parties, unfortunately.
However, most important for our discussion is the fact that the platform had a multi-part section devoted to climate change.  The solutions in the section represent the approach of a more reasoned, elite wing of a conservative party.  In other words, it acknowledges the existence of a problem and presents market-oriented solutions (preferring markets to government regulation and carrots over sticks) that try to preserve as much of the status quo as possible while still addressing the problem.
Environmental Protection
By increasing our American energy supply and decreasing the long term demand for oil, we will be well positioned to address the challenge of climate change and continue our longstanding responsibility for stewardship over the environment.
Addressing Climate Change Responsibly
The same human economic activity that has brought freedom and opportunity to billions has also increased the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. While the scope and long-term consequences of this are the subject of ongoing scientific research, common sense dictates that the United States should take measured and reasonable steps today to reduce any impact on the environment. Those steps, if consistent with our global competitiveness will also be good for our national security, our energy independence, and our economy. Any policies should be global in nature, based on sound science and technology, and should not harm the economy.
What’s stunning in the language above is the acknowledgement that capitalism has caused environmental problems—a marked contrast to the language of the party just several years later.  There is also an argument from “common sense,” i.e. that there is an imperative to do this that exists outside of the scientific consensus.  There is still skepticism (“While the scope and long-term consequences of this are the subject of ongoing research), but tempered by a belief that such skepticism does not deny the case for action.
The Solution: Technology and the Market
As part of a global climate change strategy, Republicans support technology-driven, market-based solutions that will decrease emissions, reduce excess greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, increase energy efficiency, mitigate the impact of climate change where it occurs, and maximize any ancillary benefits climate change might offer for the economy.
To reduce emissions in the short run, we will rely upon the power of new technologies, as discussed above, especially zero-emission energy sources such as nuclear and other alternate power sources. But innovation must not be hamstrung by Washington bickering, regulatory briar patches, or obstructionist lawsuits. Empowering Washington will only lead to unintended consequences and unimagined economic and environmental pain; instead, we must unleash the power of scientific know-how and competitive markets.
The language here alludes to the Cimate Stewarship Acts, the series of cap-and-trade bills proposed by John McCain and Joe Lieberman in 2003, 2005, and 2007.  Cap-and-trade,remember, was a conservative-friendly, market-oriented alternative to a “command-and-control” approach to address the crisis of acid rain.  (Just like the mandate and insurance exchanges were the conservative, market-friendly alternative to single payer---but I digress.) The language against “Washington bickering” is rather clich├ęd, and I’m not quite sure what “ancillary benefits climate change might offer for the economy” is supposed to mean.  
International Cooperation
Because the issue of climate change is global, it must become a truly global concern as well. All developed and developing economies, particularly India and China, can make significant contributions in dealing with the matter. It would be unrealistic and counterproductive to expect the U.S. to carry burdens which are more appropriately shared by all.
The party acknowledges the need for global action, but with the long-standing nationalist-populist “The U.S. isn’t the only one to blame!” to appease the base and deflect the blame.
Using Cash Rewards to Encourage Innovation
Because Republicans believe that solutions to the risk of global climate change will be found in the ingenuity of the American people, we propose a Climate Prize for scientists who solve the challenges of climate change. Honoraria of many millions of dollars would be a small price for technological developments that eliminate our need for gas-powered cars or abate atmospheric carbon.
As I noted earlier, the platform position shows a preference for carrots rather than sticks and a strong techno-optimism.
Doing No Harm
Republicans caution against the doomsday climate change scenarios peddled by the aficionados of centralized command-and-control government. We can — and should — address the risk of climate change based on sound science without succumbing to the no-growth radicalism that treats climate questions as dogma rather than as situations to be managed responsibly.
A robust economy will be essential to dealing with the risk of climate change, and we will insist on reasonable policies that do not force Americans to sacrifice their way of life or trim their hopes and dreams for their children. This perspective serves not only the people of the United States but also the world's poorest peoples, who would suffer terribly if climate change is severe — just as they would if the world economy itself were to be crippled. We must not allow either outcome.
The discussion ends with the long-standing economy vs. environment frame and what seems to be an attack on the Green Party. The Greens (and, although a registered Democrat, I'd include myself in this contingent) have advocated for a post-growth economy focusing more on redistribution than on growth in the developed world and sustainable development through the adoption of human-scale, decentralized, and appropriate technologies in the developing world. This passage is arguing with a straw man, peddling the “Enviros view climate change as a religion!” nonsense, stemming from the culture war, that you see every now and again.
However, overall, this marks the high point for the Republican platform’s relationship to climate change.
The 2008 to 2012 change is quite stunning.  They go from having the most extensive discussion of climate change to date (for the party) in 2008 to near omission. From 1992 to 2004, the Republican platform at least gave lip service to the need to commit to reducing GHG emissions and to have global action on climate change.  In 2012, climate change was only invoked to mock Obama's national security strategy.
A Failed National Security Strategy
....Finally, the strategy subordinates our national security interests to environmental, energy, and international health issues, and elevates "climate change" to the level of a "severe threat" equivalent to foreign aggression. The word "climate," in fact, appears in the current President's strategy more often than Al Qaeda, nuclear proliferation, radical Islam, or weapons of mass destruction.
There you have it: the long (or, in the context of 2008, quite short) road to flat-out denial.

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