Democracy won’t be the only existential issue on the presidential ballot come next year. It is clear from last week’s GOP debate that the future of a livable planet is very much at stake.
In a summer that has seen unprecedented heat, unprecedented wildfires, and massive flooding, the GOP candidates seeking to challenge former President Donald Trump made it plain that they’re committed to keeping their heads in the ever-hotter sand about climate change.
At a time when the world would benefit tremendously from U.S. leadership, the Republican Party appears committed to policies that will only exacerbate climate change by encouraging greater use of polluting fossil fuels.
It didn’t use to be this way. Twenty years ago, there was bipartisan agreement on the need for action to address the increasingly extreme climate the world is now facing. But the GOP, buoyed by huge contributions from the oil and gas industry and a party base that seemed more than willing to lap up convenient falsehoods, opted for campaign cash and the perks of power over the rights of future generations to a livable world.
The party’s wrong turn only worsened with the rise of Trump, who dismisses the reality of climate change as a Chinese hoax. Yet, it’s no hoax that northern Minnesota has seen more air quality alerts in the past five years than in all previous years combined, the result of the rapidly increasing incidence of severe wildfire in the boreal forests of North America. It’s no hoax that polar ice is melting at an unprecedented rate in both the Arctic and Antarctica, as are high altitude glaciers around the world. It’s no hoax that ocean temperatures off the coast of Florida exceeded 100 degrees this summer, with effects that still aren’t known. It’s no hoax that cities across the South utterly destroyed previous all-time records for extreme heat this summer, leaving their populations all but trapped indoors for weeks on end. And twenty years from now, this will be considered a pleasantly mild summer without a concerted and sustained effort to address this global threat. We already lost four critical years with the Trump administration. We can’t afford another four years of inaction on this critical issue.
Sadly, GOP candidates act as if addressing climate change entails some kind of sacrifice that the American people aren’t ready to make. That’s nonsense. Addressing climate change will make the U.S. far more prosperous as it creates new industries and millions of new job opportunities that can’t be outsourced or automated.
It’s already happening. Policies advanced by the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress, with some support in the Senate from GOP moderates, helped create 114,000 new clean energy jobs last year, pushing the number of Americans employed in the clean energy sector to more than three million. That compares to approximately 118,000 American jobs in all of the oil and gas production sector. That means, in one year, the clean energy sector produced nearly as many new jobs as currently work in the entire oil and gas sector. And those clean energy jobs are more likely to be unionized and provide far better and safer working conditions in most cases than those in oil and gas. “Drill, baby, drill,” may excite GOP crowds but it’s as poor of an economic policy as it is bad for our environmental future.
This is the problem with the magical thinking that has come to so dominate the Republican Party base. Real things are dismissed as hoaxes, while nonsense like Q-Anon, stolen elections, and President Biden’s purported and evidence-free corruption become the focus of almost obsessive attention. It’s a party where vaccines are really poison, where only white people face discrimination, where tax cuts for the rich masquerade as economic policy, and where the federal debt only matters when the Democrats are in charge.
In Ron DeSantis’s Florida, state officials have approved the use of right-wing propaganda in the state’s schools that teach children that climate change isn’t real and that solar panels will make life on Earth miserable. This from the state most at risk from the now ongoing rise in sea levels. As if climate change will disappear if we simply pretend it isn’t real.
If there’s one thing that the GOP debate demonstrated, it’s that nothing has changed with the Republican Party. Which isn’t to suggest that every Republican politician is crazy. Unfortunately, they’re forced to pretend they are to generate support from a party base that has lost touch with reality thanks to the constant stream of misinformation emanating from the likes of Fox News and Donald Trump. Until the party’s leaders are willing to challenge the nonsense, speak the truth to their voters, and support policies that are both reasonable and desperately needed, the party can’t be allowed to wield power in Washington, or anywhere else. We’ve run out of time for unserious leaders.
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