Last week, U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson laid out his plan for a “Green Industrial Revolution,” which is sort of British for “Green New Deal.” His plan calls for a ban on selling gas-powered vehicles starting in 2030, net-zero emissions by 2050, and billions in new green tech investments.
Environmentalists can, and do, question the specific choices in his blueprint. But a world in which the problem with the right-wing party’s climate stance is that it doesn’t move quickly enough in the right direction is so remote from the American imagination it may as well be taking place not on a different continent but on a different planet.
Back in the U.S., the relief of Donald Trump’s long good-bye will begin yielding to the stark reality that his party remains fundamentally pathological. No issue highlights this depressing reality more clearly than climate change.
For more than a decade, the GOP has stood alone among major right-of-center parties in industrialized democracies worldwide in its refusal to endorse climate science. But during the Trump era, the party’s rhetorical emphasis shifted. The major Republican point of agreement is now to insist on fossil-fuel use as an inherent good.
The conservative Washington Examiner reported not long ago on what kinds of climate policies, if any, Republicans may support under a Biden administration. Most of the Republicans queried for the story implicitly agree that climate change is a problem but insist that big government is not the solution. Their buzzword is innovation. A spokesperson for Senator John Barrasso, chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, explains, “He believes free-market innovation, not government taxation or regulation, is the best way to address climate change.” Representative Tom Reed says, “You lead with innovation.” And the Chamber of Commerce likewise asserts, “It’s OK to have ambitions, goals, and targets, but our focus is on innovation and technology.”
“Innovation” sounds like promising grounds for cooperation. The green-energy sector has seen an explosion of innovation over the past decade, with the price of solar energy, batteries, and other green technology plummeting rapidly.
But what kind of innovation do Republicans want? Halfway through the Examiner story, we arrive at the bottom line: “Republicans remain opposed to any policies that would reduce fossil-fuel use.”
Well, then, that would rule out any policy. Innovation in this case actually means keeping all the incumbent energy technologies in place permanently. In other words, their actual priority is the opposite of innovation.
A recent Wall Street Journal editorial explains that any policy to curtail climate change poses an inherent threat to American security. Increased oil-and-gas production “has made the U.S. less dependent on foreign producers and the U.S. economy less hostage to the vagaries of the world oil market,” the editorial reasons. “The fall in oil prices, thanks in part to U.S. production, has reduced the clout of dictators in oil-producing countries like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro.”
The Journal’s editorial page doesn’t even seem to understand the basic concept of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Obviously, it’s true that replacing domestic oil and gas with imports of foreign oil and gas would be bad for American security; it would also do nothing to limit climate change. That’s why, of all the plans to limit greenhouse-gas emissions, zero percent involve shifting to more imported oil and gas. Instead, their goal is to reduce the consumption of oil and gas, either through conservation measures (such as more efficient combustion engines) or a switch to renewable energy.
The ultimate objective is carbon neutrality. That wouldn’t make the U.S. dependent upon imported oil and gas! It would, in fact, make the U.S. completely energy-reliant, because that’s how energy from the sun and wind works.
Republicans can backfill any rationale they want. Their bottom-line position will be an opposition to any measures that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Every factor bearing on their energy position will push in the same direction: the politics of propping up jobs and profits in the fossil-fuel sector; the ideology of opposing new taxes, spending, or regulation to push for decarbonization; and the partisan imperative of demonizing any agenda Joe Biden settles on.
A conservative party capable of participating constructively in a democratic system might be able to work out some bargain on climate policy. The Republican party Biden will face is going to hysterically oppose anything he comes up with.