A free-market think tank scholar and a Republican congressman are each circulating a congressional resolution on climate change. One is a draft resolution offered up by the Competitive Enterprise Institute‘s Marlo Lewis after the Senate vote-o-rama this summer. The other proposed resolution was formally filed yesterday by congressman Chris Gibson (R-NY). Nine fellow Republicans have co-sponsored Rep. Gibson’s resolution, which acknowledges anthropogenic climate change and urges Congress to seek a solution.
Both resolutions acknowledge that human emissions are leading to climate change. “Greenhouse gases do have a greenhouse (warming) effect,” writes Mr. Lewis in a preface to his resolution, “and professing doubt about basic physics invites justified criticism of being ‘anti-science’.” Both resolutions also seek to shift the political discussion from the question of whether or not climate change is “real” to the question of what, if anything, should be done it. The way Republicans talk about global warming is changing. The discussion is shifting, in the words of Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who co-sponsored Gibson resolution, to “what we can do to mitigate [climate change’s] effects.” Or, in the case of Lewis’ draft resolution, the discussion is shifting to what should not be done. Lewis’ resolution makes a case that the effects of climate change are either beneficial or cause minimal harm, in contrast to the economic costs of addressing climate change.
The press and the environmental left are criticizing the recent exchange between Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) as an example of the way Republicans continue to dodge the climate issue. Yet their exchange actually shows that not all serious Republicans remain content to brush off climate-change questions by saying “I’m not a scientist.” Senator Rubio and Governor Christie each acknowledged the climate is changing. Both are concerned about how addressing climate change will affect the economy and the strength of the regulatory state. Though neither presented a conservative solution to climate change, neither denied the reality of climate change, or the risk that it poses. Lewis’s resolution similarly acknowledges the trends in the climate data, but goes on to contend that climate change isn’t enough of a threat to merit a policy response. Gibson’s resolution acknowledges the risks of global warming and urges the development of economically sound responses to manage them.
The question—once relatively buried in skeptic rhetoric, but now out in the open—is how much risk does climate change pose to humanity? For those who think it is a serious risk, the question is what should be done? Instead of saying “I’m not a scientist” and shrugging dismissively, Republican policymakers and thought leaders now feel comfortable openly assuming the role of climate change actuary. An optimistic reading of the situation allows for hope that the tide has at last turned, and that the high-water mark of conservative climate skepticism is behind us.
Sarah E. Hunt is Director, Center for Innovation and Technology at ALEC. She leads the Center’s Energy Innovation Project. Her policy work focuses on free-market solutions for the energy future.