In August, we discussed Republicans’ movement in the climate change debate and highlighted a new carbon tax bill introduced this year by Ambassador Francis Rooney.
But the party’s transformation started much earlier than August. It began, in part, last December when Green New Deal activists protested in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office and began pushing Democrats even further left on climate change.
Because of this pressure and the influence of Democratic presidential candidates, many Democrats willingly abandoned the middle of the climate policy spectrum. This change left moderate members of the Democratic caucus unable to advance less ambitious or bipartisan climate legislation.
During this time, we also saw Republican members of Congress like Greg Walden, John Shimkus, and Fred Upton acknowledging climate change and moving into the middle of the climate policy spectrum, which Democrats had largely abandoned. Republicans’ position was bolstered by similar responses from traditional Republican supporters, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—which declared that “inaction is not an option”—and polling conducted for the Republican National Committee (RNC) that found that climate change is the most important issue among young voters. (In fact, RNC’s data is similar to our polling that found that climate change is a differentiating issue for women, college-educated, and young voters.)
But one of the biggest shifts in the Republican party’s position on climate change happened last month.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy issued a stark warning to his fellow Republicans that “younger voters are worried about climate change,” and cautioned that “Republicans were risking their viability in elections over the long term by ignoring this critical issue.” He also said, “We need to have an open discussion about what should the party look like 20 years from now, and we should be a little nervous. We have to do something different than we’ve done.”
That is the moment Republican climate change denialism ended. The House Republican Leader has declared that the party must change if it wants to win future elections and, more bluntly, that Republicans who deny climate change threaten the outlook for the party. Acknowledging climate change is now a political imperative for Republicans.
Unfortunately, both parties acknowledging climate change and the need to address it does not indicate that we are on the verge of a grand climate policy bargain. That would be too easy, of course, not to mention there are several domestic and global challenges that we need to overcome.
But now that Republican climate change denialism is over, it is finally time for both parties to discuss solutions.