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What You Won't Hear in the Presidential Debates: Conservative Solutions to Climate Change

Conservative groups are moving away from denying climate change and toward crafting practical solutions to the problem.

So far the environment has gotten short shrift in the debates, apart from both Obama and Romney sucking up to King Coal, and Ryan complaining about the green jobs money his state gladly took. Both candidates seem hesitant to delve into the issue—Obama for fear of being accused of spending or regulating too much, and Romney for fear of appearing not conservative enough.

The thing is, not all conservatives are global-warming-denying, gas-guzzling coal lovers. It's that climate science has a branding problem. Few other sciences are so politicized. Fewer still are referred to as something that people can choose to either believe in or not. As the topic of climate change has become more and more politicized, the practical issues surrounding it—everything from energy and water efficiency to cleantech innovation—have become colored by party politics. Oil and coal have become energy sources conservatives must love, while things like energy efficiency and renewable energy have become stand-ins for liberal politics, government intervention, taxes, take your pick.

Resource efficiency and clean air and water, however, are issues that clearly cross the aisle. So it is that some conservative groups are working now not to discount the existence of climate change, but to craft solutions that eschew government intervention.

Conservatives have been so busy fighting back the big-government policy prescriptions that follow progressive sentiments that we've neglected to take the lead on prudent solutions," says Alex Bozmoski, director of strategy and operations for the Energy & Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University, a new organization that's intent on making a free market case for tackling global warming. "So climate change has been somewhat monopolized by 'liberal' sentiment, but a solution that works will be delivered by conservatives.

Bozmoski and his team propose "eliminating all fuel subsidies—including both fossil fuels and renewables—and reducing taxes on something we want more of, which is income, and shifting that tax onto something we probably want less of, which is greenhouse-gas pollution.

The Energy & Enterprise Initiative (E&EI) also supports a carbon tax, as opposed to a carbon trading scheme. "A revenue-neutral carbon tax-swap is a pro-growth solution that allows fuels to compete on their merits and 'true cost' instead of competing on their ability to attract political patronage or socialize their costs," Bozmoski says.

While E&EI brings conservatives into the climate change debate by focusing on the economics of the issue, the recently launched Young Conservatives for Energy Reform highlights the health issues caused or exacerbated by air and water pollution. "The more research I did on this issue, I realized this was really a family issue," Michele Combs, with Young Conservatives for Energy Reform, recently told NPR. "It affects everybody; everybody wants clean air. And it was really sad that it was such a partisan issue."

Combs has been working to educate her conservative peers on these issues as well as the implications energy-, water-, and food-scarcity have on national security. Which brings us to perhaps the most active conservative group when it comes to climate change: the military.

For years now, the U.S. military has been one of the largest funders of renewable energy technologies as well as various other clean technologies, not because it's politically attractive but because it's practical. On the battlefield, reducing energy consumption isn't about saving money or the planet, and it's got zero to do with anyone's political beliefs.

"It's about saving lives," says Colonel Peter Newell, director of the Army's Rapid Equipping Force (REF). Newell's organization measures the effectiveness of equipment from the viewpoint of the soldier on the ground in the fight. "At the tactical edge, we don’t look at energy efficiency in terms of saving gallons, we count it in lives saved. That’s really what we focus on."
Newell explains that from sustaining remote bases, which need energy and water, to supporting soldiers, who are being given increasingly more energy-reliant equipment to carry in their packs, reducing energy consumption and employing technologies capable of recharging multiple items are strategic imperatives.
Whether it's economics, health, or national security, the conservative road in to the climate change debate is paved with practical solutions and today's problems, not the heady talk of CO2 emissions and future environmental disasters that so often color the left side of the issue.
"The left aggressively uses apocalyptic visions of environmental calamity to justify big-government action," Bozmoski says. "Americans quite rightly look askance at bureaucrats and politicians that claim that the sky will fall unless government centrally plans massive changes to the energy mix and to consumer behavior."
Focusing on issues like clean air and water help place climate change in territory conservatives find more comfortable, historically, as well. Republicans have a strong history of valuing land and wildlife conservation that stretches back to Theodore Roosevelt, who created the U.S. Forest Service; established 51 Federal Bird Reservations, four National Game Preserves, 150 National Forests, and five National Parks; and enabled the 1906 American Antiquities Act which he used to proclaim 18 National Monuments. During his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt protected approximately 230 million acres of public land.
"Conservatives have a tremendous, historical record of leading conservation efforts," Bozmoski says. "We believe strongly in principles of accountability, liberty, eternal society, stewardship of creation, and our duty to posterity. Progressives are strong on delivering sentiments—and I'm with them on wanting clean air—but conservatives are needed to deliver prudent solutions."
This is the seventh installment in a series of essays provoking a conversation around the invisible issues of Election 2012—those crucial topics that hide in plain sight as the two candidates square off during the presidential debates this month. \n

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