Running Away From Mother Earth

It’s Earth Day, and also the 45th anniversary of the annual event identified with the modern U.S. environmental movement. But for the people running for the GOP presidential nomination, it’s just another day to run away from Mother Earth.

At Bloomberg Politics, Mark Drajem has a useful round-up of the views of all the major presidential candidates on global climate change and associated issues:

It’s Earth Day, but that isn’t stopping Republican presidential candidates from questioning whether global warming is real, whether humankind is causing it or whether plans to address the problem will bankrupt the economy…..

“Republicans have essentially painted themselves into a corner on climate change in the last few years,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. “They’re between a rock and a hard place.”

To shimmy through, each candidate is walking a slightly different path.

To be sure, not all of the difficulty is felt by Republicans. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton faces pressure from environmental activists to denounce the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that was under her review while she was Secretary of State. And former Democratic Senator Jim Webb has said he opposes the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to cut carbon emissions. The Virginian, whose state has a coal dependent economy in its southwest corner, says the Clean Air Act wasn’t intended to target carbon dioxide.

On the Republican side, Texas Senator Ted Cruz has dismissed the “global warming alarmists.” Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who tried to boost renewable energy as a state lawmaker, says the climate is never stable, but humans aren’t causing “these dramatic changes.” Kentucky Senator Rand Paul voted for an amendment saying climate change is real and human activity contributes to it, but has also mocked alarmist claims and sponsored Senate measures to halt environmental regulations.

Businessman Donald Trump tweeted during the January freeze, “This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bull– has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps.”

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry has called the EPA’s carbon rules a “direct assault” on energy providers, and his office answered questions about climate change with a roundup of his efforts to boost oil production.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, whose state is home to the Everglades and coastal communities that resist offshore drilling, is taking a more nuanced approach. He said the U.S. must be “cognizant” of climate change, and then hailed the boom in fracking for natural gas as a way to displace coal and cut greenhouse-gas emissions. And, “we need to work with the rest of the world to negotiate a way to reduce carbon emissions,” Bush said.

In terms of current positions, though, there’s less disagreement than meets the eye:

Observers would have to squint hard to detect any movement among the main Republican candidates. They all back the Keystone XL pipeline, embrace the boom in U.S. oil and gas production, say the economy trumps climate action now and, among those that answered, say a deal to cut emissions between Obama and China is one-sided and toothless.

Those of us who are old enough to remember the first Earth Day in 1970 are also old enough to remember when environmentalism was a thoroughly bipartisan cause. Yes, even then there were conservatives who criticized the commemoration or hinted darkly at its un-American nature–it was held, after all, on the centennial of Lenin’s birth! I recall National Review editorially suggesting the best way to celebrate Earth Day was: “Pick up a beer can. Throw it at a pollutocrat.” Like the rest of movement conservatism, this fringy attitude towards environmental protection has very nearly conquered all in today’s GOP. It would be nice if Earth Day were again bipartisan, but if not, then it’s another thing to add to the list of high stakes for the next election–maybe at the very top.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.