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The Last Ray Of Hope In The Republican Party
Climate Change is a bipartisan issue, but the GOP hasn't got that memo yet.
Over the past few months, climate change has started to show its teeth. The rampant heatwaves, boiling ocean, crashing ecosystems, and record-breaking wildfires are all terrifying, deadly disasters that have been linked to our ravaging of Mother Earth. But this is just an apéritif; we categorically know there is far worse waiting for us. This was the backdrop of the Republican Candidate Debate, and many hoped that a more calm, logical, honest and ethical atmosphere would descend with Trump unable to attend for obvious reasons. Instead, the toxic, misguided, unscientific, fearmongering, billionaire-worshipping, worshipping and propaganda-pushing nature of America’s right-wing politics was on full display. But, there was one small glimmer of hope among the dank sputum belched out at this farcical debate.
Before I carry on, I should make my political standings understood, as that is incredibly important here. I’m not American, I’m British. I’m not left or right; I see myself as an empirical political realist.
In other words, I don’t care about identity politics; I stay out of it. I’m only concerned with what data says is the best way forward. This is why you don’t see me engaging with the broader political debates of our time or engaging in character assassinations, and instead focus on the political areas with solid empirical evidence for the best decision to make. I engage with foreign politics, particularly with larger countries like the US, China and Russia because the decisions these countries make affect the rest of us, particularly when it comes to climate change. Make no mistake, the world watched this inane debate, terrified that one of these misguided nutjobs could get the job yet again. I do not wish to influence American Politics, though I am under no illusion that it is possible for me; instead, I want to do my small part in lifting the veil of misinformation on the international stage.
With that out of the way, let’s go over what was said at this debate.
Many heavy subjects were thrown around during this debate, including LGBTQ+ rights, free speech (or lack of), the economy and climate change. I am only qualified to discuss the climate change portion of this debate, so let’s get stuck in.
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The candidates were played a pre-recorded question to spark off the climate portion of the debate. A young man named Mr. Diaz asked them, “How will you, as both president and leader of the Republican Party, calm the fear that the Republican Party doesn’t care about climate change?” Needless to say, that is one hell of a loaded question. Only a quarter of Republicans believe climate change is a significant threat, so they would have to summon up all of their political nounce to appease the general voters and this young man.
DeSantis went for the dodge and redirect tactic. He avoided giving any absolute stance on climate change and, instead, deflected and attacked Joe Biden’s handling of the Hawaiian wildfires. Though, he has in the past said that he rejects the “politicisation of the weather.” However, I’m sure those whose homes are flattened, whose farms bake in the summer heat, or who have to cope with weeks of frigid cold without power will argue that the weather, and the climate and influences it, has a place in politics.
A relative newcomer, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, saw this as an opportunity to take a slice of the voter pie. He openly declared that the “climate change agenda” is a “hoax.” This was both met with boos and cheers from the audience. He went on to say, “The reality is, more people are dying of and by climate change policies than they are of actual climate change.” Both of his statements will have gone down well with the roughly 75% of Republicans who don’t think climate change is a threat. However, both of these statements are abject lies. The international consensus among scientists and researchers on climate change is now over 99%. There has never been a death linked to climate policies. In fact, the data tells us that millions of lives have been saved by clean air acts over the years.
None of the other candidates would outright state that climate change is a problem or that they will tackle it. That is, apart from one, who we will come to in a minute. I guess that answers Mr. Diaz’s question.
But why have DeSantis and Ramaswamy taken these stances? Many have pointed to Trump’s rampant anti-climate stance and how well it stood him in the polls, and suggested the candidates are just following suit. That might be the case, but I have another two-part theory as to why. Who their voters are, and who their donors are.
It’s now common knowledge that Republican majority states tend to be those who either consume a lot of fossil fuels or who have a fossil fuel-based economy. The people of these states rely on this planet-destroying industry for their livelihood and understandably want to defend it. So taking an anti-climate, pro-oil stance is a sure-fire way to keep a hold of a lot of voters.
Sadly, though, study after study has shown that if these economies transitioned to renewables, the number of jobs would increase, the quality of the jobs would improve, and the average pay of these jobs would increase. These states should be begging for a properly supported and smooth renewable transition. However, renewables make less money for the corporations or shareholders that own them than oil does. So, while renewables are better for the average person, they aren’t for the top per cent. Annoyingly, these wealthy individuals can influence politics more than the average American, and the Republicans pander to them.
Speaking of which, it takes billions of dollars worth of donors’ money to run a successful presidential campaign. Trump and Hillary spent a combined $2.65 billion to try and win the 2016 election. So, if you want to become the leader of the US, you need wealthy backers and keep them happy so that the money keeps flowing.
Now, DeSantis’s most prominent backers include a New York metals magnate, a Dallas pipeline mogul and a Texas oil tycoon. These are all industries that need to change drastically and whose profit margins are set to shrink as we move towards net-zero. So, it is not surprising that he is dodging climate questions and spouting the falsehoods he is.
But this is where our last ray of hope comes in, Nikki Haley. She was the only one at the debate who outright said that climate change is a problem. She watched the other candidates talk utter bollocks after Mr Diaz’s question, then channelled her inner Thatcher and quoted her saying, “If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.” She went on to say, “Climate change is real,” and “Yes, it is. If you want to change the environment, we need to start telling China and India that they have to lower their emissions.” She isn’t wrong; China is the world’s number one polluter, accounting for 29.18% of total global emissions, and India is just behind in second place, accounting for 7.09%. If we want to save the world, we must ensure these countries can transition to cleaner energy and have better environmental practices without damaging their economy, which will take considerable work.
Nikki failed to mention that the US is the world’s second-biggest polluter, accounting for 14.02% of global emissions. As such, Nikki should put the same pressure to lower emissions on the US. But for now, I will give her the benefit of the doubt. At least she recognised that climate change is an issue.
So, how can she say these things without upsetting her donors? Well, one of her biggest backers is billionaire oil and fracking mogul Harold Hamm. He is no climate activist; he has heavily criticised climate legislation in the past, and Trump nearly appointed him as energy secretary. However, he recognises climate change is real, is man-made and is a threat. This allows Nikki to talk openly about climate change without fear of losing funds and helps her stand out in a sea of climate-dumb candidates.
But there is still a problem here. While Hamm recognises climate change is genuine, his approach to fighting it is less than scientific. He wants to keep drilling for oil and, in turn, keep the American economy afloat (or keep his pockets deep) but offset the emissions with carbon capture technology. He is even spending $250 million to build a carbon capture and storage plant in North Dakota, capable of burying 8 million tonnes of carbon in the ground each year.
Sadly, this approach flies in the face of the IEA advice and the economies of carbon capture. It also doesn’t account for the fact that the planet will run out of oil by 2060, making it incredibly unsustainable, even from a practical point of view. To find out about why this can’t work, read my previous article here.
Nikki Hayley definitely isn’t an uncontroversial candidate; her stances on LGBTQ+ rights and other such issues are still firmly rooted in the extreme end of American conservative values. It is also yet to be seen if she will take a scientific approach to fighting climate change or Hamm’s greenwashing angle. But at the very least, she is willing to recognise that the biggest threat to humankind is real. Climate change isn’t a left vs. right thing; it is a bipartisan issue that will profoundly affect us all, but it seems the Republicans didn’t get that memo. The bar is so low it is ticking toes, and yet Nikki is the only candidate able to pass it. Sadly, while her ratings did increase after the debate, she is still trailing behind DeSantis and Ramaswamy. Needless to say, I do not have high hopes for the future of America after this.
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Sources: The Independent, Washington Post, The Atlantic, NY Times, IOP Science, Citizen’s Climate Lobby, EE News, CNBC, Forbes, World ‘O Metres, The Guardian, Pew Research, The Guardian, NRDC, CBS News