Today, Representative Chris Gibson (R-NY) introduced a resolution “expressing the commitment of the House of Representatives on climate change.” The resolution is co-sponsored by ten fellow Republicans, including Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, former Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
While the tone of the resolution is moderate, and speaks only vaguely about solutions, this resolution is a positive step toward a more mature debate about climate change in American politics.
It should not be too surprising that Gibson is spearheading this effort. A Friend of National Parks Award recipient, Gibson has introduced legislation designed to accelerate renewable energy investments, including convening an Energy Advisory Council to develop strategies to develop “clean forms of domestic energy production.” Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, as befits a Congresswoman from Florida, has also spoken about the importance of protecting environmental treasures like the Everglades.
The resolution defends the principle of climate policy being based on “science and quantifiable facts on the ground.” This stands in contrast to positions taken by some of Representative Gibson’s colleagues, who cast global warming as a hoax and conspiracy to defraud the public, or something on which lawmakers are not experts (“I’m not a scientist”) and thus do not feel obliged to render an opinion. Instead, Gibson and his co-signers echoed the environmental legacy of President Theodore Roosevelt, stating that it is a “conservative principle to protect, conserve, and be good stewards of our environment.”
With respect to national security and foreign policy, the resolution acknowledges the language used by President Obama in speeches, as well as his Administration’s National Security Strategy and the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review (both cited explicitly in the resolution): “the effects of a changing climate are ‘threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions.’”
Stating the issue in these terms is an important step. Republicans have been loath to acknowledge the argument that climate change is a global security threat. In fact, belief in climate change as a national security issue follows partisan political trends. Polling from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs shows that only Democratic respondents list climate change and its effects as a top five critical threat to national security.
Where this group of House Republicans wishes to take their newfound determination remains to be seen. As Andrew Restuccia and Rebecca Leber have pointed out, the specifics of the Obama Administration's two-pronged approach—a strong international agreement at Paris and important federal regulations within the United States—are still controversial among Republicans, and they have promised strenuous opposition to both measures. The Republican-controlled Senate has openly communicated to foreign governments that any promises President Obama makes on climate change can be undone by either Congress or a Republican president.
The Gibson Resolution is silent on these issues, as it is on specifics of any potential market-based alternatives to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which could include revisiting cap-and-trade or instituting a nationwide carbon tax. Hopefully answers to these questions will come in subsequent steps, especially if this group can build a caucus within the House, and certainly as climate change becomes an important policy debate within the context of the 2016 presidential election.
Responding to climate change should be a bipartisan discussion. The Gibson resolution is a strong starting point.