Dear Speaker Ryan: your 'forward-looking agenda' ignores climate change

House Speaker Paul Ryan spent much of this summer promoting the Republican policy agenda he calls “A Better Way.” He’s selling this repackaged mix of upper-income tax cuts and unregulated capitalism as a set of innovative, up-to-date solutions to our country’s ailments. The message: even if many Republicans don’t think Donald Trump can govern, House Republicans have a plan.

Unfortunately, their plan has a glaring flaw. No worthwhile agenda focusing on poverty, security, and economic growth can ignore the climate reality we all face.

Considering the much-touted centrality of poverty to Speaker Ryan’s thinking, you’d expect “A Better Way” to acknowledge the economic impacts of a changing climate. Unfortunately, not only would his agenda make climate change harder to combat, it would make life more difficult for many of the minority and low-income communities that climate change has already harmed.

As temperatures increase and sea levels rise, working families and those living below the poverty line will experience more severe climate impacts with less advance notice or preparation. Encroaching floodplains are already forcing vulnerable communities to relocate. American farmers and ranchers will increasingly feel the effects of shifting seasonal patterns.

Continued greenhouse gas emissions will only intensify these and other stresses on the very people Speaker Ryan says he’s trying to help. Just as seriously, by failing to prepare the U.S. workforce for a renewable energy future, his plan would place our domestic businesses at a competitive disadvantage.

His failure to address climate change’s national security impacts is just as glaring. “A Better Way” claims to “tackle new threats” of “our time and beyond,” but only mentions climate change by way of complaining that President Obama has supposedly prioritized it over “countering radicalization at home.” (In fact, he has rightly focused on both issues.) The Department of Defense now formally treats climate change as a “threat multiplier,” since erratic precipitation patterns, rising temperatures and extreme weather events will exacerbate global instability and increase circumstances that breed terrorism. Speaker Ryan’s agenda simply ignores this.

The danger of that approach is clear for anyone who cares to look. In the Horn of Africa between 2008 and 2012 – a period of severe drought – more than 144 million people were displaced by sudden onset disasters. Contrary to Republican orthodoxy, efforts to curb emissions and bolster U.S. security complement one another. Indeed, they often rely on each other to succeed.

Addressing climate change also makes perfectly good economic sense, as Speaker Ryan knows. As the century-old infrastructure and business model that’s sustained our fossil fuel economy shifts to support clean energy and smart technology, investor dollars around the world will flow toward economies that continue to lead the way. The stubborn belief that our country can only flourish through a continued dependence on fossil fuels insults the resolve and ingenuity of American workers. Over the last decade, the average cost of solar photovoltaic panels has decreased 60 percent as the U.S. has made gains in efficiency and manufacturing. Solar industry employment has increased 123 percent since 2010. Again, Speaker Ryan’s agenda pretends none of this is happening.

This silence suggests the Republican Party doubts our ability to operate more efficiently in the future than we have in the past. To claim that forward-looking climate policies hurt our economy or that they have no benefits – as Speaker Ryan does – is inaccurate and shortsighted at best. At worst, it’s frankly dangerous.

Promoting economic growth, defending our citizenry and addressing poverty should be bipartisan goals. While I may disagree with his approach, I believe Speaker Ryan was right to include them in the Republican agenda. However, his party’s track record of opposing sensible climate action at every turn greatly reduces that agenda’s credibility.

If the Speaker honestly wants to champion legislation that addresses the issues of our time, gaining an understanding of the science and significance of climate change is a necessary first step. Any governing agenda that wants to be taken seriously has to offer a meaningful climate plan. Pretending otherwise will waste the opportunity that now exists to make progress on areas of potential bipartisan cooperation.

Source: The Hill

By:  Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva