After Hurricane Harvey, Republicans Have No Excuses for Inaction on Climate

How high’s the water, mama?
Five feet high and rising
How high’s the water, papa?
She said it’s five feet high and rising

Well the rails are washed out north of town
We gotta head for higher ground
We can’t come back till the water goes down
Five feet high and rising…

–Johnny Cash, “Five Feet High and Rising,” 1959

What else is it going to take?

If Hurricane Katrina couldn’t force Republicans to take human-caused climate change seriously…if Superstorm Sandy couldn’t force Republicans to take human-caused climate change seriously…will Hurricane Harvey do so?

Even the most vocal of climate-change deniers in the US House and Senate have to know that in the wake of this horrific storm, denying the reality of human-caused climate change will be regarded as absurd. Harvey is the exact sort of storm that climate scientists have long predicted would come as a consequence of the unrestrained release of heat-trapping gases due to the burning of fossil fuels. Basic physics and common sense dictate that if we keep proceeding with business-as-usual energy policies, the storms will only become more devastating and more deadly.

Republicans have no excuses left, not when the consequences of carbon pollution are affecting their own voters. Sooner or later, they’re going to have to come to the table.

The Republican elder statesmen who have advocated for “market-based” solutions to the climate crisis had to have known this moment would come. They had to have known that sooner rather than later, the GOP would be in a position where yelling “It’s a hoax!” or screaming “The science isn’t settled!” would likely not work anymore. They had to have known that denialist ideology would soon be submerged under the rising waters of reality.

As Senator Sheldon Whitehouse observed last month:

Virtually every person on the Republican side who has thought the climate change problem through to a solution has come to the same place: price carbon emissions to encourage cleaner energy and return the revenue to the American people. Former Treasury Secretaries Baker, Shultz, and Paulson; former EPA Administrators Ruckelshaus, Thomas, Reilly, and Whitman; and leading economists and former presidential economic advisors Arthur Laffer, Gregory Mankiw, and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, and many others support a revenue-neutral, border-adjustable carbon fee…

When I first came to the Senate in 2007, the place was humming with bipartisan action on climate change. For years. But in 2010, dead stop. The Republican Party disappeared from the field after the fossil fuel industry secured from five Justices on the Supreme Court the disgraceful Citizens United decision. The fossil fuel industry immediately launched a veritable Soviet May Day parade of political artillery. No special interest had that kind of political muscle before Citizens United.

The combination of this industry political weaponry, plus the proliferation of dark money, plus the shady science simulacrum of climate denial has been formidable.

Despite this, there’s room for optimism. There are Republicans willing to work with us: and not just a few. They just need some prospect of safe passage through the political kill zone the fossil fuel industry has created.

After Harvey, the Republicans willing to work with Democrats on carbon-pricing legislation must stand up. They must summon the courage to resist the ridicule of the remaining hardliners who continue to deny the reality of human-caused climate change. They must join the Congressional Republicans who have already disavowed denial.

The images from Texas have to prod the consciences of those in the House and Senate who have not fully prostituted themselves to the johns of the fossil-fuel industry. Americans who have been victimized by this historic storm are pleading for both short-term and long-term help: not only do they need immediate assistance to rebuild their lives, they also need Congressional leadership on the climate crisis.

It wasn’t that long ago when Republicans would grudgingly acknowledge that human-caused climate change is real. There’s no place for House and Senate Republicans to hide now. The evidence can’t be walled off anymore by the conservative-entertainment complex. They may not like it. They may not enjoy it. However, in the wake of Harvey–and the harm human-caused climate change is inflicting upon their own–they have to deal with it.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.