Let’s be real for a moment. Right now, Donald Trump is leading the army of Republican nominees for President. According to CNN, his approval rating has surged over the past month to 18 percent, three points ahead of Jeb Bush, his closest competitor. In New Hampshire, he’s leading Bush by seven points.
I’ll say it again: Donald Trump, a man who in his presidential campaign announcement, referred to Mexicans as criminals, drug dealers and rapists (at a time when the GOP is actively trying to court minorities); who has denigrated the military record of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) by insisting he is “not a war hero”; and who trails behind him a string of failed business ventures; is currently the most popular Republican nominee.
It’s fair to say that Republicans have bigger ideological issues to deal with than whether or not greenhouse gases are bad for the planet. I say this not because Donald Trump oozes slime but because four years ago his party’s best shot at taking the White House was a stiff-necked milquetoast that alienated 47 percent of the electorate and didn’t understand why. Say what you will about Trump, he’s certainly got a personality; the problem is, his ability to empathize with that 47 percent – hell, the 99 percent – is just as limited.
But, to borrow a phrase from New Orleans, I say all this to say that whether or not the Republicans are even thinking about renewables right now, America’s energy landscape is changing. As it does so, it becomes harder to imagine Republicans will ever pull themselves from the atavistic cocoons they’ve woven from the moist money pawed off the fossil fuel industry.
It Wasn’t Always This Way
Republicans like to say that they were the party of Lincoln, the party that freed the slaves. And while Congressional Republicans fought hard for black civil rights in the 1960s, the man they chose to nominate for President in 1964, Barry Goldwater, was unapologetically against the Civil Rights Act. An odd dichotomy, but presidential nominations are odd in so many ways…
Today, Republicans and Democrats have become much less willing to compromise, and while Democrats in general seem to be floundering for leadership, the most strident Republican leaders have seen fit to side increasingly with big business at the expense of the common man, with evangelical Christians at the expense of the unaffiliated or the mildly exotic man, against women’s rights, against gay rights and against the scientific consensus that industrialization is poisoning the Earth.
This is not to say that these issues have any relation to each other, merely that the Republican party sticks to its “conservative” ideas when those ideas are threatened by progress.
But lest this polemic divert into a full-fledged screed, I will focus on the matter at hand, namely, Republicans’ relatively recent anti-environmental stance.
Theodore Roosevelt became the nation’s 26th President in 1901. The man was an unabashed imperialist, but let’s give credit where credit is due: He was also one of the most important conservationists in US history. He created the US Forest Service, established 51 Federal Bird Reservations, four National Game Preserves, 150 National Forests, five National Parks and 18 National Monuments. And he was a Republican.
Earlier this year, Republicans in the House sponsored HR 330, known by its critics as the “No More National Parks” bill. The bill would amend the 1906 Antiquities Act – which Roosevelt used to proclaim those 18 National Monuments – to require extensive Congressional approval prior to the creation of any further monuments or protected marine parks.
In July 1970, President Richard Nixon unveiled his plans to create an Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Both agencies were established by the end of that year. Today, Republicans are doing everything they can to hamstring them both.
When President George Bush I looked at the science and saw that sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants were causing acid rain, he got behind the Clean Air Act of 1990. It has since become a heavy burden on Republicans’ collective conscience. After all, regulations on how much poison can be pumped into the air puts a heavy burden on plants’ productivity.
This Is How It Is Now
Today, the solar industry is booming, growing nearly 22 percent in 2014 and beating out coal for two years running. As the scientific literature surrounding global warming points the finger squarely at carbon and methane emissions, clean, renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar are being internationally embraced.
Yet Republicans are refusing to accept this science on principle (as I have lamented time and again). One study found that over 56 percent of Congressional Republicans (including 72 percent of Republican Senators) dispute or deny climate change and, in the last four years, Republicans have voted against environmental legislation 551 times.
Now there are plenty of hypotheses as to why this is. One study published in the journal Social Science Research suggests that, after the Cold War, the “Red Scare” was replaced with a “Green Scare” as Republicans increasingly equated the environmental movement with socialism. Then again, Republicans also equate Barack Obama with socialism, and Democrats with socialism, and many “unpatriotic” things with socialism – so either Republicans think all of these things are socialist, or they throw the “socialist” label at all the things they don’t like. That, of course, would be a highly cynical thing to say – if the behavior wasn’t already highly cynical of a doe-eyed and docile electorate.
The only thing more cynical would be to say Republicans’ support for fossil fuels at the expense of sense and common decency all stems from one source that starts with a “K” and ends with “-och brothers.”
Why does supporting fossil fuels violate common sense? Aside from the fact that transporting and drilling for oil has led to dangerous explosions, irreversible damage to the environment and the befouling of priceless groundwater resources, Goldman Sachs has warned that some $900 billion worth of oil assets are likely to become worthless in the very near future. Why? Falling prices and a growing international consensus that renewables are the future.
GOP Principles Will Hurt the GOP
The same principles that the GOP holds so dear (and in this case I am referring to sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears whenever science is mentioned as a principle) are already putting them at cross-purposes to their potential constituents.
Recently, several Republican candidates took the wrong message to Iowa, where the first major electoral events are held in presidential elections. Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and Scott Walker all publicly spoke out against the federal wind production tax credit (fellow candidates Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Rick Santorum have also voted against renewing it in the past).
“Look, I think wind is terrific,” Cruz said at the event. “As you know, Texas and Iowa are one and two in the country in wind production, but once again I don’t think it should be the federal government dictating that.”
But that’s just the problem. Iowa loves the tax credit on wind power. Actually, they love wind power, period. The Wall Street Journal notes that wind supports between 5,000 and 7,000 manufacturing jobs statewide.
You know who was also against the tax credit? Mitt Romney. You know who lost Iowa in 2012? Romney.
It was Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley who authored the legislation that created the wind production tax credit in the 1990s, and he has gone on record saying that he supports wind because it’s better than “more expensive and more polluting sources of energy, lowering electricity prices for consumers.” Grassley has even encouraged presidential candidates to spend time in Iowa and learn why wind is so important to them.
Meanwhile, Tom Morrissey, a former Arizona Republican Party chairman has called the GOP’s national leaders “knuckleheads” for their stubborn opposition to renewables. Putting it as bluntly as possible, Morrissey described solar’s edge over oil thusly: “If we can keep one dollar from going to people who are killing our kids in Afghanistan, it’s a good thing — and I feel that’s what solar energy does.”
And just to bring this all full circle, Barry Goldwater, Jr., the son of 1964 Republican candidate Barry Goldwater, has vehemently opposed an Arizona effort to tax solar panel installations. According to Goldwater, America’s energy infrastructure is in dire need of an overhaul. “Utilities are working off of a business plan that’s 100 years old,” he said in an interview, “kind of like the typewriter and the bookstore.”
I have no wrap-up for this piece, I have only further examples of general Republican intransigence and the woeful disposition of being a man who writes about this stuff for a living.
I’ll end by saying this. The Republican party needs to look deep into its heart and first understand why Donald Trump is currently their most beloved candidate. Is it because Trump is so qualified to lead them or because the gravity of the GOP’s atavism has reached a critical mass and is now collapsing on itself?