What Obama Can Teach Republicans About Discussing Climate Change

November 10, 2014

The midterms didn’t go so well for Tom Steyer, the environmentalist billionaire who spent millions in an effort to make climate change a winning issue. Steyer’s failure can be summed up by the fact that in the final days of the election, his Super PAC was funding bizarre ads accusing Republicans of wanting to ban condoms.

Most Americans do not think "dealing with climate change" should be a governmental priority—a 2014 Pew survey found that it ranked 19th out of 20 issues tested, behind "reducing the influence of lobbyists" and "dealing with moral breakdown." It is likely to stay that way heading into the 2016 presidential race.

However, climate change will continue to be a top concern among elite liberals, celebrities, and many members of the media. As a result, Republican politicians can expect to be asked about it constantly. They can do better than their standard response: "I’m not a scientist." As GOP energy lobbyist Michael McKenna explained to the New York Times:

It’s got to be the dumbest answer I’ve ever heard. … Using that logic would disqualify politicians from voting on anything. Most politicians aren’t scientists, but they vote on science policy. They have opinions on Ebola, but they’re not epidemiologists. They shape highway and infrastructure laws, but they’re not engineers.

No, you don’t have to be a scientist to have an opinion on global warming, or to question whether modern science is capable of making flawless assertions about something as complex as Earth’s ecosystem, as liberals constantly suggest. (Strangely enough, even actual scientists who put forward a view that dissents, however slightly, from the approved "consensus," or draw attention to any data that could undermine that consensus, are ritualistically shunned as apostates.)

However, constantly reminding people that you’re not an expert on the subject you’re about to discuss is not a great look, and it’s easily mocked by liberal comedians and their millennial cults, who might someday figure out how to vote in elections.

Republicans can start by conceding, or simply ignoring, part A of the climate change debate—is the climate changing and are we somewhat responsible for it?—and moving on to the most significant part B: what are we going to do about it? That’s a debate Republicans should be able to win fairly easily, given that they would be on the side that opposes higher energy costs and punitive tax increases, and thinks comparing climate change to slavery and calling for political opponents to be jailed is desperately overwrought.

If Republicans want to have a better, somewhat trollish answer for questions about climate change, they could simply imagine how Barack Obama might respond in their position, while incorporating all of his familiar flourishes:

Well, look. I’m not going to stand here and tell you science doesn’t exist. I’ve looked at the reports on this, and I can tell you it’s something we should be keeping our eye on.

What you should’ve asked me is what I plan to do about it. Here’s what I’m not gonna do. I’m not going to support policies that will cause energy prices to "necessarily skyrocket," as the president has said. That’s not a serious solution. Not when hardworking middle class families are still struggling to make ends meet.

You know, some of my opponents are out there literally arguing that we should stop drilling for oil tomorrow, and see if we can get by on wind turbines, or solar panels, or algae. Yes, algae. You know, the stuff that grows on ponds. Go figure.

Maybe, a few decades from now, we’ll all be driving around in algae-powered hovercars. Whatever it is, we’re going to have to find a way to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. And I think we can. I have faith in American ingenuity. I would hope my opponents do as well.

Now, I understand that there are Democratic donors—some of them billionaires—who have investments in these sorts of companies and would do pretty well for themselves if my opponents got their way.

But I’m not interested in helping a handful of rich guys get even richer. I’m interested in making sure that hardworking Americans aren’t breaking the bank to heat their homes, or fill up the minivan. I would rather they spend that money on groceries, tuition, or maybe starting a new business.

Let me be clear. I am perfectly willing to have a discussion about finding ways to make the environment cleaner. I think that’s something most Americans can agree on. But what I’m not willing to do is let partisan ideology be the basis for American energy policy. I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in what works. And I’m ready to have that conversation—about what works best for America—if I can find a willing partner.

And make no mistake. There are some Democrats who don’t buy into this notion that abolishing oil companies is more important than helping middle class families thrive. I’m ready to work with them to find a solution.

But there are some—on the Left—who insist that climate change is the modern day equivalent of slavery. Yes, they really said that. If you’re one of the few people who still watch MSNBC, you’ve heard all about it. Others have said: "Anyone who disagrees with me on this issue should be thrown in jail." I’m serious. You can look it up.

That’s not the language of progress. That’s not the honest conversation America deserves.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.