Climate Change Is a Priority, Not a Distraction

Republicans seem to be trying out a new way to avoid addressing global warming. Let’s make sure it fails.

Judging by the recent rhetoric from its party members, the GOP’s brain trust seems to have conceived of a new way to downplay climate change.

We heard it from Donald Trump during the presidential debate last week: “The single greatest problem the world has is nuclear armament, nuclear weapons. Not global warming like you think and your president thinks.”

Closer to home, we heard it from several Republican lawmakers in a Seattle Times story examining Gov. Jay Inslee’s record on education: “This isn’t the governor’s thing, the governor’s just tolerating what we have to do on education while he thinks about carbon,” Sen. John Braun told the paper. Sticking to the same script, Rep. Chad Magendanz said: “He has his own agenda, very much focused on climate change.”

Gone, it seems, are the days of outright denial. Trump even denied that he denied climate change is real during the debate. It’s about time. As anyone watching recent election cycles could tell you, by placing themselves on the wrong side of the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming, Republicans were marking themselves as Stone Age anti-intellectuals who were either dumb or, more likely, in the pockets of the fossil-fuel industry.

This might be cause for celebration if it meant that Republicans were ready to get on board to find solutions to global carbon emissions. Sadly, though, as Trump’s and Braun’s comments show, they’ve simply swapped out denial for a new obstructionist talking point suggesting that climate policy comes at the expense of other important initiatives. The rhetoric may be different, but the goal remains the same: inaction on carbon regulation. And just like Trump’s early argument that climate change was some anti-American hoax cooked up by communists, this one is completely bogus.

On the face of it, both Trump and Braun are implying that our political leaders can truly focus on only a single issue, an idea so ridiculous it should be dismissed out of hand. Does anyone actually believe that Obama’s work bringing America to the table in Paris to be part of the international climate accord somehow impeded his administration’s simultaneous work on nuclear disarmament? Is there any evidence that Inslee’s work on regulating carbon emissions in the state of Washington has materially affected his administration’s work on education funding?

In both cases the answer is no. But that’s not really what these Republicans are trying to say. Instead, they are attempting a clever sleight-of-hand that conflates whatever perceived policy failings an elected leader may have with the matter of climate change—which they imply is not as serious an issue as some make it out to be. As they would have it, this very editorial should be seen as an endorsement of Obama’s nuclear policies and Inslee’s education funding. Which of course it isn’t. What this editorial is saying is that Inslee and Obama have elevated climate change to its rightful spot as one of the most serious issues facing our society, and no slick talking point can change that fact.

Politics are based on rhetoric, of course, and as such can feel like one long talking point. “The problem is we’re fighting a propaganda war,” an 11-year-old climate activist told Seattle Weekly earlier this year. “Who can get people to listen more—the oil corporations or people like us?” Who, indeed, as long as right-wing politicians continue to diminish the climate crisis, even as they begrudgingly acknowledge its existence?

Anyone asking voters this year to elect them to a position of power should be ashamed if climate change is not a priority in their agenda, not vice versa. As such, we commend Inslee for tireless work finding ways to use his executive powers to regulate carbon emissions in this state; we’re proud Obama has ended America’s time as a global pariah on the issue of climate change. Does this make them infallible politicians with no missteps on their record? Of course not. But it does make them politicians that, in at least one case, have their priorities straight.

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