Time For Honesty On Climate

Daily News-Record, June 4, 2016
H. Bishop Dansby, Opinion (Open Forum)

Climate change continues to be the greatest challenge of our era and probably in all of human history. At first, our government tried to address the issue with comprehensive energy and greenhouse emissions legislation. Lack of Republican support caused the legislative approach to fail, but in the meantime the Supreme Court made it clear that climate change could be addressed under the existing Clean Air Act, and the Obama administration took a number of strong regulatory actions to address climate change through the Environmental Protection Agency, giving the U.S. the credibility to sign the Paris climate accord. Meanwhile, Republicans, including Donald Trump, are doing all they can to roll back these gains.

There has been relatively little debate in the scientific community on the basics of climate change and our need to reduce the use of fossil fuels for a couple of decades. However, among politicians and the public, there has been continual debate, denial and partisan divide. While Democrats have generally accepted the conclusions of the scientific community, Republicans have vigorously denied them. The position of Republicans has gone from (1) there is no climate change, to (2) there may be climate change, but it is not manmade, to (3) there is climate change and man may be contributing to it, but there is nothing we can do about it. They have never quite gotten to: There is climate change, man is the cause of it, and we can avoid its catastrophic effects if we take adequate action.

Polls show that Republican voters are more progressive on climate change than Republican politicians, with Republican political leadership being the least progressive of all.

Shenandoah Valley representatives and residents are reflective of the national picture. With the action taking place in the EPA and other regulatory agencies, the only legitimate role of state and federal legislators is to stand aside and let the regulatory process go forward. Instead, elected officials such as Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Ronaoke, and Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, are doing all they can to frustrate the regulation of greenhouse emissions, whether by litigation, defunding or legislation to stop the EPA and Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality.

Climate change is an undeniably formidable challenge. Energy is the foundation of our modern economy. The discovery and development of abundant coal, oil and natural gas has made possible the modern standard of living we take for granted. Nevertheless, there is good reason to believe that as the problem of climate change forces us to develop renewable sources of energy and more energy efficient buildings and vehicles, we will emerge with an even higher standard of living. While we would not have voluntarily chosen to transition off of fossil fuels, the doing so will usher in a new era of cheaper, cleaner energy.

It should be said in no uncertain terms that political leaders such as Goodlatte and Obenshain, who are ignoring the climate-change challenge, are failing us at an historic dimension. Further, the well-educated Shenandoah Valley physician, lawyer and businessman who brushes off the climate-change problem is failing us and his descendants. This is a failure of ethics, morality and imagination, and it is a failure that will have enormous practical economic consequences. These politicians and citizens may deprive us of the next and necessary era of human prosperity, not to mention depriving our descendants a livable planet.

Possibly, the world will stumble forward to address climate change without the help of Republicans. Renewable energy is competitive with fossil fuels, so the market can help solve the problem. Thankfully, most of the other major nations do not deny climate change and are moving forward with policies to address it. Even if this happens, what does this failure by a large part of our government and citizenry say about the quality of the contemporary American culture? Republican politicians and voters need to show some integrity and join the effort to legitimately and honestly address the issues of climate change, renewable energy, and energy efficiency.

Mr. Dansby lives in Keezletown.

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