Today in the House there was a dramatic contrast between a Republican Party embracing the urgent need to take serious action about global climate change and one wedded to ideology.
Consider it a "tale of Two Testimonies."
About two years ago, Newt Gingrich and I had a civil, respectful debate on the environment. We disagreed on the way forward, but agreed on the urgency of the global climate change crisis. So it was disappointing to see Newt rehash the same tired formula today in his testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He spent almost all of his prepared remarks saying the word most popular with his party: No. And he continued to use talking points and "facts" that have already been discredited many, many times.
Here’s an example: too many Republicans continue to completely overstate the cost of the proposals, misstating an MIT study so badly that one of the main authors of the study felt compelled to go public to correct the record. The GOP talks of a cost in the thousands per household, while the Union of Concerned Scientists has concluded that the energy policies currently under consideration will be a net gain for the economy.
In his prepared testimony, Newt continued the false rhetoric that the major energy problem is a lack of domestic oil production. Leaving aside the fact that domestic oil production would never have a major effect on prices in a global oil market, Newt’s rhetoric completely ignores the whole point under discussion: the awful climate disruption from global climate change. Oil drilled here has the same carbon footprint as oil drilled anywhere else.
This is an incredibly urgent situation. The science of climate change is accelerating as more evidence comes in, and the change is consistently in the same direction: the problem is even more acute than we thought just a few years ago. The Arctic ice is disappearing faster, ocean acidification is progressing, and global temperatures are rising faster than previous models suggested. Climate scientists previously recommended a ceiling of 550ppm in the atmosphere, but now we’re told that the limit is 450ppm. Jim Hansen and other top scientists are now warning that we need to limit atmospheric concentrations to 350ppm.
But at the same time as the forecasts are getting more dire, there is more and more technology coming online that gives us hope of getting a new pathway. Unlike Newt’s rhetoric of doom and paralysis, we can build a new 21st century economy with more prosperity, and a cleaner environment. I expect more from someone like Newt who once talked about "Winning the Future."
But there’s hope yet for a center to reassert itself in the GOP Ranks – led by a statesman. Today former Sen. John Warner said:
I grew up with the World War II generation and was privileged to serve in the U.S. Navy, at the age of 18, in the last year of that conflict.
Americans were inspired in the darkest hours of the Great Depression, and that war, by the immortal comments of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, given in his first inaugural address, in 1933: "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." The U.S. emerged from a depression, World War II, and rebuilt strong nation that exceeded all our dreams and expectations
Today our nation and much of the world is in the grips of an economic crisis without precedent. The brave men and women of our armed forces and that of other nations are engaged in two wars. Understandably there is a measure of fear in our hearts as to whether we should undertake at this time such an enormous and uncertain challenge as posed by the issues before us in this hearing. But I say, in the spirit of the past generation, that it is our duty to dispel fear and press on.
We need to get this done. To do it, we need a comprehensive plan in our country, and undertake tough negotiations internationally. We need to create a transportation policy that upgrades our high-speed rail and other forms of mass transit. We need to support the burgeoning clean energy economy by implementing strong energy efficiency and renewable energy standards. We need to build a transparent, dynamic carbon market that will reward clean industries and lead to a new, green economy.
And if we do this domestically, we will have the moral authority to engage with the international community to lead the way to a new global climate change agreement. The United States can’t do this alone, and the world can’t solve this problem without the United States. This is a time for global leadership from our country. As Senator Warner said, "We cannot and should not wait for other countries to take the lead. Their participation in a global treaty is critical, but the United States is a world leader, and it is upon us to act now and join other nations in exerting leadership. Only then can we expect others follow."
Right now, even without an international treaty, many countries are moving ahead with building green economies, aiming to reap the benefits of new industries and innovation. Germany now has more workers employed building wind turbines and solar cells than manufacturing automobiles. China has announced its intention to be the global leader in electric vehicles within three years. We can’t afford to be left behind in this race, and the world’s climate can’t afford to wait any more for our leadership.
The time is right for bold action, not misstated facts and outdated ideology.
As a country, we need to move quickly and boldly to confront these challenges, and we need the Republican Party to take a different and honest path on the answers – to sound more like John Warner and less like Newt Gingrich did today.