OPED: Pollution is not a conservative value

Citizens' Climate Lobby

Recently my friend Jerry and I went out for lunch at a local diner. I pulled into the diner parking lot and parked my electric car near an enormous pickup truck. Upon getting out of my car, I immediately noticed a very large exhaust pipe on the white pickup. Judging by the thick layer of black soot and the “liberal repellant” sticker above the tailpipe, the owner was trying to make some kind of a statement.

Jon Clark, Citizens Climate Lobby

Being a citizen lobbyist for action on climate change, I’m accustomed to people equating my work and my concern for the future of our climate, with being a liberal. But I’m about to let you in on a little secret, I consider myself to have many conservative values. I hate personal debt. I pay down any debt I have as quickly as possible. I believe in the free market, though I don’t believe it’s infallible. There are distortions in the market (such as pollution) that require government intervention. I believe in justice. I believe in competition and hard work. I believe in a level playing field for all. I believe in conserving our resources; conservation is a core conservative value. I absolutely hate being wasteful, efficiency is important to me.

This brings me back to the statement the pickup truck driver seemed to make: that fouling our air is a conservative value. It’s strange to me that anyone would be proud of a vehicle belching out black smoke. After all, our children breathe the same air, whether we are liberal or conservative. Is conservatism now defined as being “anti-liberal” rather than having true conservative values? Conservative Russell Kirk once said “only the unscrupulous or shortsighted can defend pollution and degradation of the countryside.”

Norman Wood Bridge and the Holtwood Dam are shown on the Susquehanna River. The river has long and important history in the immediate region and beyond.

We live in a time when the nation is so polarized. Climate science has become politicized, thanks largely to the decades long efforts of Exxon and other fossil fuel interests. They have spent millions to confuse the American public into thinking there is a debate among climate scientists as to the cause of our warming planet (no debate, 97 percent of climate scientists agree burning fossil fuels is the problem).

Even before we even got into the New Year, the UK Met Office issued a forecast saying 2016 is likely to be the warmest year ever recorded globally. The Met Office tracks global temperatures. Climate change and the peaking of the El Niño weather phenomenon are expected to drive the global average temperature in 2016 above the record now certain to be set for 2015, which itself beat a new record set in 2014.

Just weeks ago, 195 nations came away from the Paris climate talks having agreed on the following:

  • a long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels
  • to aim to limit the increase to 1.5°C, since this would significantly reduce risks and the impacts of climate change
  • on the need for global emissions to peak as soon as possible, recognizing that this will take longer for developing countries
  • to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with the best available science
  • come together every 5 years to set more ambitious targets as required by science
  • report to each other and the public on how well they are doing to implement their targets
  • track progress towards the long-term goal through a robust transparency and accountability system

Before and during the Paris conference, countries submitted comprehensive national climate action plans (INDCs). These are not yet enough to keep global warming below 2°C, but the agreement starts us on track to achieving this target.

Part of the United States INDC is the President’s Clean Power Plan which cuts down carbon pollution coming from power plants using dirty, outdated fuels. These new rules coming from the Environmental Protection Agency (which conservative Richard Nixon created by executive order) are the result of a Supreme Court decision saying the EPA is required to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act (which was also signed by Nixon).

The Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University (NYU) School of Law recently published a report summarizing a survey of economists with climate expertise.  Among the participants, 81 percent said a market-based system (such as a carbon tax) would be the most efficient way of cutting carbon pollution.

I urge York County conservatives to contact Rep. Scott Perry and ask him to support a market-based solution to climate change which would put a fee on fossil fuels and return all of the revenue back to households. We can solve the problem while creating jobs making clean energy right here at home while growing our economy.  Republicans have a strong legacy of environmental protection in this country. They can continue this tradition by introducing a conservative plan to reduce carbon pollution damaging the climate.

Jon Clark is Mid-Atlantic regional coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby and lives in Dover.