Republican senator Mike Lee delivered a speech today about the Green New Deal which communicates a great deal of information about the state of thinking in the Republican Party. The primary theme of Lee’s speech is that the Green New Deal is not a serious idea. I have at least some sympathy with his critique, having written two columns lambasting its unrealistic targets, lack of specificity on mechanisms for reducing carbon emissions, and inclusion of ancillary policy commitments.
Lee’s criticism is, um, different.
The Utah senator mocks the Green New Deal with an illustration of former president Ronald Reagan firing a machine gun while riding on the back of a dinosaur, to make the point that “this image has as much to do with overcoming Soviet communism in the 20th century as the Green New Deal has to do with overcoming climate change in the 21st.” He asserts “the Green New Deal calls for the elimination of all airplanes” — it does not — and proceeds to argue that, in the absence of airplanes, travel would be conducted by “tauntauns,” the fictional animal in The Empire Strikes Back.
While this portion of the speech is extremely stupid and dishonest, it’s worth noting that it is not the stupidest part of this speech. The stupidest part, in fact, comes at the end. Lee pivots from mocking the Green New Deal to insisting he does take climate change seriously, and he has a plan, a serious one, unlike the frivolous Green New Deal. His plan is for people to have more babies:
Climate change is an engineering problem — not social engineering, but the real kind. It’s a challenge of creativity, ingenuity, and technological invention. And problems of human imagination are not solved by more laws, but by more humans! …
The solution to climate change is not this unserious resolution, but the serious business of human flourishing — the solution to so many of our problems, at all times and in all places: fall in love, get married, and have some kids.
As support for this bizarre proposition, Lee cites a column by Tyler Cowen. Cowen’s column does not, in fact, argue that procreation is the solution to climate change. It simply argues against the idea that climate change means we should not have children, on the grounds that more children in the United States will, in addition to consuming more energy, supply more ideas to innovate.
Whatever the merits of this argument, it certainly does not support Lee’s idea that having more babies will, by itself, serve as a sufficient response to climate change. In an email, Cowen confirmed he does not believe procreation is by itself an adequate response to climate change. (“Many other good decisions need to be made too, of course,” he noted rather drily.)
For all the Green New Deal’s shortcomings, it is at least describing kinds of policy changes that would have an impact on climate change. Lee’s position is literally that all new laws are bad — people and companies should just continue dumping carbon into the atmosphere for free, forever, and the only appropriate response is speeches urging them to have more babies.
The relevant background that casts Lee’s speech in sharp relief is that he has built a reputation as one of the great thinkers in his party. Lee has been called “the most interesting republican in Washington,” “a one-stop shop for provocative reform ideas,” who a few years ago earned praise for “delivering some of the best speeches of any leading right-of-center politician in the entire Obama era.” And he has even been talked up as a potential Supreme Court justice, which is not the kind of job where you stash your idiots.
What makes this praise so damning is that it’s all probably true. This is a party whose members have declared that the existence of snow in February refutes climate science, and that rising sea levels are caused by a buildup of dirt on the ocean floor. Lee’s speech at least doesn’t challenge the fact that climate change is a real phenomenon. He probably is one of the smartest Republican legislators in Washington! Which is like being the most physically intimidating baby in the stroller park.