How climate change can help the GOP win in 2016

Summary: Republicans have adopted a purely negative platform for dealing with climate change, a difficult to explain policy that puts them in opposition to most scientists. This post describes an alternative platform, one that is consistent with their principles, easy to explain, appealing to undecided voters, and cuts through the chaff of factional bickering. It’s the kind of policy that helps create coalitions that win elections.

“… a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.”
— Martin Luther King’s speech “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution“, at the Episcopal National Cathedral in Washington on 31 March 1968.

Republicans Flag

Contents

  1. GOP weakness on climate change
  2. An agenda for the 21st century.
  3. Conclusions.
  4. Other posts in this series.
  5. For more information.

(1) The Republicans’ weak stance on climate change

The Republicans have ceded the politics of climate change to the Democrats. The only mention of it in the 2012 Republican platform is trivial…

“Finally, the strategy subordinates our national security interests to environmental, energy, and international health issues, and elevates “climate change” to the level of a “severe threat” equivalent to foreign aggression.”

So far the GOP’s 2016 presidential candidates have little to say about it. I see no policy statements about climate change on the issues pages of campaign websites for Rick Santorum, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul.

Carly Fiorina says that the solution to climate change is “innovation not regulation”, without many details (her website points to video clip here, and here). She also says — logically — that California should have prepared better for the drought — although her specific recommendations are illogical: more dams and water infrastructure (ineffective and too expensive to cope with multi-year droughts) and massive destruction of California’s ecology (e.g., damage to key species such as the delta smelt — calling it unimportant because it’s a “small fish”).

When questioned, Republican candidates tend to respond with evasions and half-understood techno-babble (even if they understood it, the public would not) — or just deny the problem (see responses at the CNN debate). There is a better way, one consistent with their commitment to a strong defense and a sound infrastructure for America.

Key to Leadership

(2) A better way: policies that can gain wide support

“We don’t even plan for the past.”
— Steven Mosher (member of Berkeley Earth; bio here), a comment posted at Climate Etc.

Clear communication requires a simple but powerful plan. Here’s one such for climate change. Start with beliefs that have wide support.

  • Climate always changes. It has both built and wrecked civilizations throughout history.
  • The world has been warming during the past two centuries.
  • The IPCC’s AR5 tells us about the past: “more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together.”
  • Forecasting future climate remains an uncertain science.
  • The world has seen much extreme weather during the past two centuries, which will reoccur — sometimes with horrific consequences.
  • Studying past weather and climate patterns can help us prepare for the future. It has a high cost/benefit ratio.

These provide the foundation for two sets of public policy recommendations. First, prepare for the extreme weather of the past that we know will come again. Second, use proven methods to strengthen our climate science institutions so they provide reliable insights for policy-makers.

(a)  Prepare for the past to repeat

While we bicker about how to preparing for possible futures we ignore a more certain threat: the almost inevitable repeat of past extreme weather events — even if we don’t know their timing or magnitude. A major east coast city will get hit by a large hurricane. Long hard droughts are normal for the southwest. Massive snow storms will hit the north and northeast regions. We’re better prepared for Russia to invade us than for these events.

This means spending on infrastructure to protect cities and stronger regulation of building in sensitive areas (or pass stronger laws preventing such structures from getting disaster relief). Since we have limited funds, an agency should be given the lead responsibility to assess the risks, allocate funds, and monitor performance of these projects.

(b)  Climate scientists are our eyes, an essential resource

In response to a request for supporting data, Philip Jones, a prominent researcher {U of East Anglia} said “We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?”

– From the testimony of Stephen McIntyre before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce (the July 2006 hearings which produced the Wegman Report).

We are utterly dependent on scientists for advice about the future of climate change. In this respect their social role is more like those studying health care than those studying anthropology or astrophysics. The scientific method applies to all of these, but the human terrain differs where the political and financial stakes are large and immediate. Purely academic fields have less potential for — and cost from — sensationalism, crying “wolf”, and allying with political factions that have unrelated goals (e.g., religious, political, or economic change).

Experience in other fields shows how to deal with these conflicts of interest. Since we cannot easily or even reliably train or test for ethical behavior of individuals, we ensure institutions have an acceptable minimum of ethics by relying on well-proven tools. Doctors and stockbrokers have licensing requirements and regulatory machinery because people are fallible, even when well-intended. Even institutions manned by people of high character can fail from inadequate regulatory machinery (e.g., the horrible but pervasive history of child abuse in the Catholic Church).  Some recommendations for climate science…

  • Disclosures of conflicts of interest.
  • Transparency by publication of methods and publicly-funded data.
  • Review of studies by a multidisciplinary team of unaffiliated experts.
  • Clear lines of responsibility for work and supervision.

The first two are obvious, but poorly done in the climate sciences (although with slow but substantial improvement during the past two decades).

The third is essential, but almost unknown (peer review is inadequate for such high-stakes research). For example, review of climate models would require substantial funding. The 2006 North report by the National Research Council was only a shadow of what’s needed to produce assurance on a subject of such importance.

The fourth is essential, yet not even discussed. We’re told the world is at stake. Who is responsible in the Federal government for coordinating the response? NOAA is the obvious lead agency, although today much of the work flows through NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF). This makes no sense.

Create a team to prepare a plan for research to determine the threat from climate change, Re-focus NASA on space exploration. The business-as-usual academic processes of the NSF, universities, and science journals are inappropriate means to respond to a global threat. The IPCC is largely a sales organization, collecting research to prove a pre-determined goal.

These reforms, plus adequate funding, can create research that Americans can rely upon — and act upon. If we had done this in 1990 we’d have reliable answers now.

Leadership Compass

(3)  Conclusions

“You can’t beat something with nothing.”

Of course, not everybody will support these proposals. Nobody likes external supervision and review. Some institutions will lose funding and visibility, and will fight for their self-interest over ours. Some people use climate change as a stalking horse for their own goals. But these are small factions, most of whom are politically weak when pushed off the political high ground by a strong alternative.

I believe most Americans will see these as a cost-effective way to help America prepare for the 21st century.

Future Scenarios

(4)  Other posts in this series

These posts sum up my 330 posts about climate change.

  1. How we broke the climate change debates. Lessons learned for the future.
  2. Today: How the GOP can own the climate change debate.
  3. How climate scientists can re-start the public policy debate about climate change.

(5)  For More Information

Please like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and post your comments — because we value your participation. For more information about this vital issue see The keys to understanding climate change and My posts about climate change. Especially see these key posts…

Also see these posts about forecasts about climate change…

 

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36 thoughts on “How climate change can help the GOP win in 2016

  1. here’s a fun fact: according to the gallup organization 58% of republican voters are young earth creationists. how do they react when climate scientists, peer reviewed or otherwise, try to tell them about the climate changes that have occurred since, e.g. the last glaciation? no, the republicans will never alter their position on climate. to do so would alienate the majority of their supporters who insist that g_d controls the flight of every sparrow. i fear you greatly underestimate the capacity of humans for irrationality and magical thinking.

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  2. What you propose is certainly reasonable. But it seems to me that the real political debate between the two parties is whether the challenges posed by climate change justify policies to reduce GHG and large, government supported investments in renewable energy. I don’t recall reading any posts where you have discussed if the state of our understanding of climate change supports these policies.

    Like

    1. DMK,

      Dozens of posts discuss the need to “decarbonize”, although don’t use (or like) the term — both to reduce pollution and prepare for peak oil in the next decade or 2 (as Hirsch report showed, preparations will take a decade to two — slower is cheaper). These measures are fully justified on those grounds.

      Given the current dysfunctional state of climate science, I doubt their forecasts provide adequate support for any large public policy response (e.g., misrepresenting RCP 8.5 as a “business as usual” scenario to scare people). As the previous post in this series described, they’ve gridlocked the public debate so that nothing will happen unless Gaia intervenes (i.e., some large extreme weather event, which activists will blame on CO2 even if it’s quite normal).

      It’s time to unjam the debate. Preparing for past extreme weather also prepares for many forecasted changes — hence should gain widespread support. Ditto for more funding for climate science in exchange for structural reforms.

      These reforms will also “smoke out” those using climate change as a stalking horse for unrelated political goals.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent ideas: 3 common ground areas (and there may be more). I think that appealing to the Rs in their current state is hopeless. The liberal establishment would think these proposals too weak. The research community would probably have to be lured with a drastic increase in funds, but this should be done anyway. Try Trump instead.

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    1. Social Bill,

      When starting the FM website project, in my darkest moments I believed the situation was hopeless. Now that’s my default position. However, I like to pretend that reform is possible.

      As the story goes, “… or perhaps the horse will learn how to sing.”

      Like

  4. I hope you don’t become another doomster. BTW this the sort of thing a Nixon would have done: a dramatic turn (China!), reaching across the aisle, etc. This is the sort of thing Trump might jump onto (no ideology just ego) especially if NY gets Sandyfied.

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  5. oh no sir, not forever. of course things change, but in what time frame and by what means? as vince lombardi put it (as well as many others) “hope is not a strategy”. so, allow me to modify my previous statement> the republican party will not alter its views on climate change within any meaningful time frame. heck, a clear majority of conservatives are still sure that obama is a muslim.

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    1. jay,

      That’s a reasonable guess (which is all we can do about such things). My guess is that the GOP doesn’t have a firm stance on climate change, other than they oppose the Left’s proposals for more taxes, massive new regulations, and changing the nature of our economic system.

      My suggestion is to adopt proposals that accomplish this with a positive agenda. The obvious analogy is health care. The Right loved RomneyCare, but hated it when Obama adopted it. Both were seen as principled stances, which they were in a sense.

      Like

  6. A good start. We definitely need to look for ways to agree, not ways to disagree. Sadly, politics has become about appeals to the “base” and to big donors and that is served by finding ways to disagree. It will take a politician with considerable courage to break out of those constraints.

    I think that something that could be added would be policies to foster innovation in general (something Republicans are for anyway) and energy innovation in particular (without which we *will* have climate change, for better or worse). There are good reasons, independent of climate change, to promote energy innovation. Cheap abundant energy is a prerequisite for modern civilization. The supply of fossil fuels is finite, so the cost can only increase with time. Continued prosperity will ultimately depend on finding cheaper alternatives. Policies designed to wean us off fossil fuels should encourage both nuclear and renewables (a carefully designed carbon tax is the logical approach, but the “debate” has become so poisoned it may not be possible). Ultimately we will need cheap energy storage, whether we get power from nuclear, or renewables or both. So there ought to be a way for the Republicans to create a big tent policy here.

    I do have a couple of quibbles.

    “This means spending on infrastructure … Since we have limited funds, an agency should be given the lead responsibility to assess the risks, allocate funds, and monitor performance of these projects.”
    The federal government as arbiter of all that is good and wise? I don’t think so, and I am not even a Republican. Since these will be local or regional projects, with local or regional consequences, how about just turning money over to the states and letting them decide what is best? Some will make foolish decisions and suffer for it. Such is life.

    “Who is responsible in the Federal government for coordinating the response? … Create a team to prepare a plan for research to determine the threat from climate change”
    Unfortunately, setting up an agency with the job of creating a goal pretty much ensures that the agency will create a self-serving goal. It will then end up, like the IPCC, “collecting research to prove a predetermined goal”. There is no point to coordinating a response until we know what the response needs to be.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mike,

      Thank you for your comments. However, you have misread two key points.

      “The federal government as arbiter of all that is good and wise?”

      What a weird way to describe a Federal agency that decided how Federal funds will be allocated.

      “Since these will be local or regional projects, with local or regional consequences, how about just turning money over to the states and letting them decide what is best?”

      There is a long history of doing that. The funds tend to be stolen or wasted. Despite the current romance with local government (resulting from decades of conservative propaganda), American history shows this to be quite delusional.

      “There is no point to coordinating a response until we know what the response needs to be.”

      Since I explicitly said that their first job is to conduct research to determine the threat, that’s an odd objection.

      Like

    2. Editor,

      “What a weird way to describe a Federal agency that decided how Federal funds will be allocated.”
      But there are not “federal funds”, the funds belong to the people. (Please note that I am not pushing some “taxation is theft” nonsense, I am only commenting on the proper relationship between people and their government.) Typically, the way these things work is that the feds use the tax dollars they collect to get state and local governments to put up some of their tax dollars.

      “There is a long history of doing that. The funds tend to be stolen or wasted. Despite the current romance with local government (resulting from decades of conservative propaganda), American history shows this to be quite delusional.”
      Really? Are you talking about over a century ago? If not, then please tell me where I can read up on this. Otherwise, why should we expect the same now as in the era of political machines and the spoils system?

      “Since I explicitly said that their first job is to conduct research to determine the threat, that’s an odd objection.”
      My objection is to the idea of setting up an agency whose first job is to conduct research to determine the threat, i.e. to decide what their job is.

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    3. Editor,

      “But most or all of the points you raise are standard far-right talking points.”

      No, they aren’t. They are pretty much mainstream conservative/Republican views. And even if they were far-right views, so what? How does that constitute grounds for dismissal? Your statement sounds like something from a leftist who thinks that conservative Republicans are all idiots who can not be reasoned with.

      I am not a Republican, but I did express Republican views above. What could possibly have moved me to do that? How about this: The title of the article is “How climate change can help the GOP win in 2016”. Do you maintain that the views of GOP voters are irrelevant to that topic?

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    1. David,

      Thanks for the links. However, I do not see your point.

      (1) NASA’s IVVV group

      “To provide our customers assurance that their safety and mission-critical software will operate reliably and safely and to advance the systems and software engineering disciplines. In doing so, we work to standards of excellence, provide professional engineers, provide national and global leadership, focus on customer satisfaction, and adhere to and demonstrate our core set of values: safety, integrity, respect, teamwork, balance, innovation, and excellence.”

      Do they have the expertise to evaluate climate models, beyond seeing that the software works? Have they evaluated the climate models used by the IPCC?

      In any case, evaluation by NASA hardly counts as an outside evaluation — as NASA’s lead scientists are among the major advocates of action on climate change. The FDA doesn’t have drug companies evaluate their own drug testing.

      (2) There is a large literature about model validation. But how much of this has been applied to climate models? Very little. Most of the “testing” has been backtesting, which outside the little world of climate science is considered just the first step — and by no means the most effective or rigorous step.

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    2. Common sense engineering evaluation will compare model predictions against reality. e.g. evaluate the latest CMIP5 model predictions over the satellite era since 1979 for the signature “Hot Spot” – the tropospheric tropical temperatures – which currently are running 400% TOO HOT! (Not 4%) That reflects gross incompetence and fiduciary failure by any engineering and financial standards.

      See testimony by John Christy May 13 before the US House, Fig. 2. http://docs.house.gov/meetings/II/II00/20150513/103524/HHRG-114-II00-Wstate-ChristyJ-20150513.pdf Similarly see the NASA era engineers and scientists independent evaluation at TheRightClimateStuff.com. There are still some scientists and engineers with integrity, even in NASA.

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    3. David,

      I think you’re being too kind to the alarmists, and much of the climate science community. Unless the development process is well-structured and supervised, models are almost inevitably “tuned” to match the past. Those that don’t match are tweaked, often informally. The large literature about model validation has several prescriptions — out of sample test, etc — few of which are used in climate science.

      “Common sense engineering evaluation will compare model predictions against reality. e.g. evaluate the latest CMIP5 model predictions over the satellite era”

      That’s an easy test. More useful is to compare forecasts from past versions of models with actual temperatures. How well have forecasts from AR1 (1990), AR2 (1995), and AR3 (2001) matched actuals for the past 25, 20, and 14 years (i.e., using actual data for emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols, volcanoes, etc). That will tell us much about their forecasting ability, and the degree to which models’ forecasting ability has improved.

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    4. I agree on the model validation requirements which is why I referred to NASA’s INDEPENDENT Verification and Validation group. When the best case latest models “only” show 400% error, I agree that earlier models will likely be even more inaccurate for this key anthropogenic “fingerprint” region. For formal forecasting evaluations See evaluations by Green, Armstrong, Soon at http://www.forecastingprinciples.com/index.php/climate-forecasting-improvements with pdfs e.g.,

      Liked by 1 person

    5. David,

      Thank you for these great cites! I’ve long had on my “to do” list to look for studies like these. I’ve reformated the cites for easier reading, adding links (including an open version to the first one, which is gated).

      For context, assume that these instead were strongly supportive of the models. They show what we lack. These are nice studies, but just cursory or sketchy reviews compared to those needed before spending tens of billions of dollars — and perhaps restucturing the world economy. These would be considered grossly inadequate for FDA approval of a new aspirin.

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  7. The essence of your proposal is that further study of climate change is needed before the correct action can be undertaken. I would argue that the scientific consensus within the field that climate change is a real and pressing issue requiring immediate action is such that what you are describing, although desirable, is too little and too late.

    The proposal is also ambiguous. For example, would the spending on infrastructure you describe be taking into account the types of extreme weather most likely to occur as a result of climate change? Or would it encompass other types of extreme weather events? If the latter, this would not represent the most efficient use of scarce infrastructure funds given that the former types of events are likely to occur with progressively greater frequency, whereas the latter will presumably occur at the same frequency as previously.

    I would suggest that a much better policy for conservatives vis a vis climate change would be to put forth bold market-based proposals for slowing climate change. For example, why not create a carbon tax, and use the income generated this way to abolish other taxes in a revenue neutral way? This could simultaneously address climate change, allow the targeted removal of taxes which have a particularly designed to benefit special interests, and also obviate the need to create and maintain oppressive and expensive regulation which seeks to reduce CO2 via governmental fiat. Economists of all political persuasions seem to be convinced that this would be the most efficient way to deal with climate change, and would drive the innovation that is needed to make this cost-effective.

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    1. PA,

      (1) “The essence of your proposal is that further study of climate change is needed before the correct action can be undertaken.”

      That’s quite a reading FAIL. That’s the exact opposite of what I said. Almost nothing is being done now. I said that we can break the political gridlock and take immediate action to mitigate the effects of climate change by preparing for the repeat of past climate (events that activists say are the inevitable future effects of climate change).

      (2) “I would argue that the scientific consensus within the field that climate change is a real and pressing issue requiring immediate action is such that”

      What’s your basis for that claim? There are a dozen or so studies of the consensus among climate scientists. Offhand I don’t recall any even asking that question. Let alone asking them what “immediate action” is required.

      (3) “The proposal is also ambiguous. For example, would the spending on infrastructure you describe be taking into account the types of extreme weather most likely to occur as a result of climate change?”

      Another reading FAIL. I specifically said a lead agency should be appointed to determine that (I recommended NOAA).

      (4) “For example, why not create a carbon tax”

      Why not just wish for pixies to come and fix the Earth? That’s just as likely to happen. I’m recommending things that the GOP could easily do.

      Like

  8. ‘e.g., damage to key species such as the delta smelt — calling it unimportant because it’s a “small fish”’

    Yeah? Well, the eco-warriors may be concerned about small fish, but they apparently don’t give a fig about big birds, or bats. With a nation carpeted with eco-cuisinarts, these beautiful and important animals won’t stand much of a chance.

    Like

    1. Yeah, that’s the usual misdirection the activists always jump on. That and birds flying into windows.

      It is absolutely immaterial. These are not the same birds. The birds that get killed by cats and windows are small, rapidly reproducing species that are not in any way endangered. The birds killed by the eco-cuisinarts are the slowly reproducing, soaring raptors of the skies, or the equally slowly reproducing, and critical for the eco-system, carrion fowl. And, the bats.

      Many of these flying creatures were already endangered. The eco-cuisinarts will ensure their ultimate extinction.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. As you love cats, I love birds. Especially, the most beautiful and majestic raptors. The cat/window argument is like arguing that the delta smelt doesn’t matter, because lots of fish are killed by sharks or boat propellers.

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