Rustlings from Republican Environmentalists

Reprinted with permission from Prof. Barry Bickmore’s blog “Anti-Climate Change Extremism in Utah”. Dr. Bickmore retains copyright.

Let’s face it–it’s a bad year for Republican Environmentalists like me.  About half of the field of Republican presidential candidates once promoted the idea of addressing climate change in some way, but all but Jon Huntsman have backed off this stance to one extent or another.  Even Huntsman hasn’t suggested doing anything about climate change in the near term, and in any case, he’s consistently polled at 1-2%.

How are we supposed to respond?  There is a clear scientific consensus, based on clear scientific evidence, that humans are causing climate change, and this poses significant risks.  And yet, it’s become a litmus test for Republican candidates to either deny or express agnosticism about human-caused climate change.  Republican “environmentalists,” by definition, aren’t a single-issue kind of people.  If that were the only issue we cared about, we would clearly not be Republicans, so we often have to hold our noses and vote for candidates that don’t fit all our ideals.

The thing about people like us is that, since we sort of straddle the fence on some issues and can see some truth in alternative points of view, we are more likely to set aside ideology and vote for candidates that seem like they have some modicum of integrity and are, well… capable of abstract thought.  But in the current GOP presidential race, who are our choices?  We’ve got Huntsman, who seems pretty good (and was a great governor,) but who has no chance in the Primary.  We’ve got Romney, who isn’t so terrible, but badly needs to grow a spine.  We’ve got Rick Perry, who comes across as a dumb jock who is real proud he can name Galileo, but we’re not sure he knows much beyond the name.  (Prove me wrong, Rick!  Tell us three new things about Galileo!  I want you to go out there in that next debate and give 110%!!!  ”And the third thing is… uh… uh… oops.”)  We’ve got Newt Gingrich, whose recent conversion from being a sleazy hypocrite is less than convincing, and who alternatesbetween sounding intelligent and like Archie Bunker.  We’ve got Michelle Bachmann, who comes across as a saucer-eyed devotee of a UFO cult… and unutterably stupid.  (Being a Mormon, I find this amusing.  Go into any Evangelical Christian bookstore, and you will find countless books on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints that ask whether we are “Christian or Cult”.  For many Evangelicals, anyone who isn’t an Evangelical belongs to a “cult”.  Ok, I completely understand that many LDS beliefs sound weird to outsiders–what religion doesn’t sound weird to outsiders?  But just look at the GOP presidential candidates, and if you want to tell me that Bachmann and Perry come across as more sane than Huntsman and Romney, I’ll politely mumble something as I back away.)  We have Herman Cain, who is very likely a groper, isridiculously uninformed, and who now answers all uncomfortable questions with “999″.  No, I’m serious.  Frankly, I don’t know anything about Tim Pawlenty except that “T-Paw” looks like a total pansy in debate.  Makes me want to pants him and shove him in a locker.  [UPDATE:  I realized just after I posted that it’s Rick Santorum who’s still in the race, rather than Pawlenty.  Nobody cares.]  And Ron Paul… I’m at a loss for words.

Maybe there aren’t very many of us, but we’re beginning to hear some rustlings from Republican environmentalists.  The Salt Lake Tribune reported today that Tim DeChristopher, who is in jail for obstructing the sale of resources on sensitive government lands (even though these sales were later deemed improper,) would support Jon Huntsman for president, because he had showed some integrity on environmental issues while in office as Utah governor.  DeChristopher describes himself as “a lefty activist felon in prison,” but the article also quoted me.  Here’s what it said:

Brigham Young University geoscientist Barry Bickmore, a Republican who speaks out on the importance of dealing with climate change, said he also would back Huntsman in sticking with the science.

Like DeChristopher, Bickmore said he would like to put climate change at the top of the agenda for more voters.

But the GOP, with candidates like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich backing away from the issue, it appears as though the GOP is becoming an anti-science party and imperiling its own future as a result, Bickmore said.

“If the Republicans don’t get together and stop pretending the problem doesn’t [exist],” he said, “in a couple of decades it will become so apparent that we were in denial about this that the party will be gutted, we’ll be turned out on our ear.”

Huntsman has warned much the same thing in recent debates.

Meanwhile, an article in The Boston Globe quotes several environmentalist Republicans in New Hampshire, who are not too happy with the current field of GOP candidates.  Here’s an excerpt.

On Thursday, Farrell Seiler, a Republican-leaning independent, and Republican Antonius Blok will host a workshop in Portsmouth, N.H., examining the impact of climate change on the Seacoast. They also will officially launch a new group, “New Hampshire Republicans for Climate.”

The subject line of their e-mailed press release says it all: “NH Republicans Hosting a Climate Conference? Really.”

Seiler said: “There needs to be an opportunity for enlightened conservative Republicans to raise their hands and say you can’t deny what the science is telling us. We don’t share the anti-science denial-ism of six and a half of the eight Republican candidates who are in New Hampshire running in the primary.”

Former Republican EPA officials – including the agency’s first administrator, Bill Ruckelshaus, and former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman – have begun to respond to use their national platforms to rebut the candidate criticism.

I hope more of us start speaking out, making the consequences of the GOP’s current trajectory clear.

[UPDATE:  Be sure to watch my seminar on “How to Avoid the Truth About Climate Change.”  See below.]

[ Editor’s note: This site is NOT interested in arguments that don’t have a good grasp of the hard science of our problem. We are interested in intelligent ideas from right and left and in between and off the spectrum altogether. It’s just that the right’s ideologies are challenged by the facts here. Bickmore acknowledges the facts, which is a good step, but doesn’t provide a conservative policy framework for addressing those facts. Such documents are astonishingly rare. Jim Manzi makes the attempt on occasion, but ends up underestimating the risks so badly that it hardly helps. And when someone like Jim Hansen makes a case, he is pretty much expelled from the club. ]


  1. I commend Barry for what he has done and what he is doing. I think he is very clear and I suspect that, being a Republican, his message will have more penetration than the messages coming from the other side of the political divide. It's great to see evidence that Republicans are speaking up against the anti-science often on display within their party. Having said that, though, I just can't fathom why someone would tie him or herself to a political party. In sports one might cheer for an inferior team for any number of reasons. In politics one should support ideas and leave partisanship out of it.

  2. Bill Clinton had it right, the sensible controversy is what to do about climate change, and there, there is plenty of room for an entire spectrum of answers some of which you and I would/would not agree on.

    My choices would be no more coal burning power plants (that does not mean close the ones we have, but allow no expansion), build natural gas electric generators on top of the fields so that leakage is a minimum, start new nuclear plants and a significantly higher gasoline tax to drive fleet mileage without regulations, but those are my top three. Oh yes, nuke the tar sand plants.

  3. (cross-posted from Prof. Bickmore's blog; also, the "editor's note" seems to be missing a terminating </em> HTML tag)

    I agree it's useful to hear about tackling climate change from a Conservative point of view. However the Republican Party as it now stands has nothing to do with Conservative principles -- beneath its veneer of Conservatism, the party is now nothing more than a party of greed, lawlessness, and nonsense.

    I think Prof. Bickmore should make it clear that he'll stay home on polling day and refuse to help raise funds and resources for Republican candidates unless they heed the pro-science voices. The Democrats recently did this regarding the Keystone XL issue, to great effect (and even then, perhaps not enough). As long as the candidates think they can get away with their current behaviours, they will continue with them.

    Or, Prof. Bickmore might consider aligning with a saner minor party of Conservative bent, or simply declaring himself as an independent.

    -- frank

  4. Some Repbulicans, though under peer and party pressure to oppose AGW, may still be slowly realizing that all the evidence leads there.

    But if they have argued strongly against it, they may want to avoid publicly changing their minds without due cause, given the flip flopping notoriety of Romney and Gingrich.

    Such lapsing skeptics need some new evidence that they can latch on to, to justify their change of mind. And, particularly for politicians, without having to admit that they were wrong before. And they currently have this, with the release of the BEST report.

    Some of those needing justification who don't come out now may have to wait until the next big thing, i.e., the BEST SST results, or AR5.

  5. I think that being the opposition in a very bad economy helped the Republicans do very well in 2010. This emboldened and empowered the type of politics and led to the current crop of Republican presidential nomination seekers.

    Most likely they need to get a drubbing in an election and then reform their primary process before candidates who Bickmore would like can prosper in the Republican Party. Democrats went through something fairly similar to this not so long ago.

    Question is whether that can happen with the economy still bad and Obama's number rather middling. So many people are saying that the US needs the 2012 elections to send a clear message. Unfortunately I don't think that is so likely. I can easily see Obama winning reelection but the Republicans holding onto one or both houses.

  6. When you say "nuke" the tar sands plants, are you suggesting we demolish them with A-bombs (a novel solution)? A less extreme stance has actually been proposed, to wit, building a nuclear power plant at the tar sands site to supply low-carbon electricity for heating the sticky mess, required to separate the sand from the heavy crude/bitumen. That heat is currently supplied by natural gas, so displacing that fossil fuel input would in fact lower the carbon intensity of extracting the tar from the sands, at least somewhat.
    But perhaps you knew that and were just being especially thrifty with the keystrokes...

  7. Well said Barry. The thing that still leaves me baffled in all this is what about our party system leaves on major party stuck with this field of Keystone Kops? Aren't there sufficiently conservative people out there who have some leadership experience, say in the private sector; are up to date on current events; know what newspapers they read; and can put a complete sentence together in front of a crowd? What is stopping the R party from recruiting such people to run?

  8. The primary system. The primary system was intended as a solution to the problem of both parties gravitating toward the exact center on all issues. Instead, it hurls the parties toward the fringes. Huntsman is, in fact, a relatively reasonable, intelligent, sane and informed candidate. But his following is negligible. In the old "smoke-filled-room" system he would have stood a good chance of winning both the nomination and the presidency.

    A better solution might have been the one the founders envisioned: a democracy with no parties at all. This approach utterly and almost immediately failed to thrive. The mechanisms to discourage parties were inadequate. One might wish for more than two parties, but then we'd get the sorts of instability and unrepresentative government that Italy is famous for and that Canada now faces.

    Among the most interesting things about the Occupy movement is the rise of nonpartisan direct democracy. Somehow it should be possible to do an end run around the party system.

  9. Perhaps you are part of the Republican silent majority and do not realize it.

    Take a look at this Pew poll on climate change. Go down the page to where the numbers get broken down in terms of party. You find 53% of Republicans stating that there is not firm evidence that the planet is warming, but go a bit deeper.

    Next question down, only 34% say that climate change is not a problem. Sixty-four percent spread themselves from "not too serious" to "very serious". A non-existent problem is not at all serious, it has to be a recognized problem in order to judged "not too serious".

    Does that suggest that a good sized hunk of Republicans will give the "approved party line" response to the climate change question, but when they have to respond to a more nuanced question the truth leaks out?

    Go down to the next box and even half of the Tea Party says "serious" at some level.

    Here's another survey, limited to Ohio. Republican women and non-Tea Party Republican men support continued investment in solar power by 63 percent.

    Perhaps what you do as a Republican who is uncomfortable with your party's anti-science stance is start to make some noise inside your party. It looks to me as if there might be a majority of Republicans who are not comfortable with the public face of the party.

  10. Some more...

    This is from a Reuters/Ipsos/Stanford poll - 52% of Republicans stated that the issue of global warming is somewhat/very/extremely important. That's a majority of Republicans surveyed.


    From a Reuters/Ipsos this year...

    "a majority of Americans from both major parties agree on global warming, the poll found. Some 72 percent of Republicans believe global warming is happening and 92 percent of Democrats do"


    A nationally representative study out of Yale found...

    "Fifty-three percent of Republicans, 71 percent of independents and 78 percent of Democrats said they believe global warming is real."


    Yes, I somewhat cherry-picked polls showing a majority of Republican party members acknowledging climate change, but the point I'm trying to make is that is is not clear that the Republican party is united in denial.

    I'd hazard to guess that a solid majority of Republicans accept the fact that the planet is warming. There just needs to be some leadership to get the non-deniers to start speaking out.

    A one point the Republican party had to put racism away as a party position. It may be time to put climate change denial and an anti-science stance away as well.

  11. To be historically fair, the Republicans were the party of Lincoln, and it was the Democrats who had to put aside racism. The so-far unsung hero in the process was Lyndon B. Johnson, who apparently said "I am losing the South for the Democrats for a generation", a prediction which, as we say in the meteorology game, verified.

  12. I doubt either the Democratic or Republican party of the 1800s could be called non-racist by today's standards.

    Clearly Lincoln was a Republican and freed the slaves. That drove many of the more racist voters to the Democratic party. Johnson's signing of anti-racism legislation made many, especially Southern, Democrats very unhappy with the Democratic party and Nixon recruited them to the Republican part via his "Southern Strategy".

    It's more like the racists left the Democratic party behind than the Democratic party intentionally putting aside racism.

    I grew up in the segregated South and remember the conflict of family members who struggled to move from the Republican party (much of East Tennessee fought for the Union) to the Democratic party because they just didn't agree with the racists who were taking over the Republican party. My parents and grandparents were Republicans because "Mr. Lincoln won the war" and because they admired Ike. (They were also conflicted because they admired FDR. ;o)

    For all his faults, George W. Bush (IMO) began the movement of the Republican party away from racism. He appointed Colin Powell, a black man, as Secretary of State. He replaced Powell with a black woman. I look at those actions as a clear signal to the party that it was time for Republicans to abandon racism as a party plank, that society had changed too much for national elections to be won by racism.

    I think we will look back at the Bush II era as the time at which society had changed enough that even the more racist party began to put aside racism.


    All that said, it looks to me like it's time for those Republicans who are not anti-science/anti-intellectual to start speaking up. Quit silencing yourself because you think you are part of a small minority within the party, you may well be the majority.

    If you're a Republican and unhappy with the pro-fossil fuel agenda being pushed by some in your party - make some noise.

  13. I'm still looking for a republican friendly approach to the climate problem that is remotely commensurate with the scale of the problem, though. Hansen's approach seems right but you don't see a lot of Republicans embracing his proposals.

  14. Just because you don't see a lot of Republicans embracing Hansen's proposals doesn't mean they aren't Republican friendly. It just means they are still in denial that there exists a problem worth solving.

    Of course given the adversarial atmosphere of today's politics you could end up with the hilarious spectacle we have here in Canada where the supposedly market friendly Conservatives argue for regulation and against using market forces to help reduce emissions. Not that they have any intentions of implementing regulations, it is just that the Liberals were the ones who proposed a carbon tax and therefore the Conservatives must be against it.

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