The climate crisis demands a left-right consensus that transcends politics.
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Deep-red Texas is baking under a heat dome. True-blue Massachusetts is choking on the smoke of Canadian fires. Purple-state Arizona is scaling back residential construction as severe drought grips the Southwest.
The apolitical wrath of climate change has never been more apparent than it is today, begging the question: How can we forge a non-ideological consensus to take on the climate emergency?
The notion of a bipartisan crusade against the ravages of climate change in hyperpolarized America may seem positively quaint, especially with a Republican Party still largely denying the severity — or, in some cases, the existence — of the climate crisis. But in a nation where neither major party has been able to maintain unified power for more than a congressional cycle since 2007, what is the alternative?
The nation is under assault from an enemy that does not distinguish between races, creeds, religions, or political affiliations. The ravages of climate change are coming for all of us.
The urgency of the climate crisis does not allow for Pollyanna delusions of a progressive political tide that would rapidly usher in an era of aggressive climate policies. And even in the highly unlikely event of sustained, unified Democratic governance, recent history offers little assurance that Democrats would embrace the far-reaching agenda needed to stave off the worst effects of climate change. Indeed, the Democratic Party, both at the national and state level, has more than its share of climate incrementalists and outright fossil fuel industry apologists. Joe Manchin may be the bogeyman for climate activists, but he is far from alone among Democrats in his bowing to petrochemical interests.
So where does that leave us? Perhaps the answer is to reframe the need for urgent climate action in the most American of ways: as one that puts love of country above all else.
This is not a mere marketing strategy, but an approach guided by the undeniable facts of climate change. The nation is under assault from an enemy — albeit one of our own making — that does not distinguish between races, creeds, religions, or political affiliations. The ravages of climate change are coming for all of us.
In such circumstances, the only rational response is one that encourages alliances which transcend our broken politics and reject the doomsday path of denial, accommodation and gradual reform. The new climate patriot could be of any political persuasion, and could be just as easily driven by self-interest as by altruism. The unifying call to arms is simple: Save America.
Such a patriotic clarion call is hardly hyperbolic given the near-apocalyptic wildfires, water shortages, hurricanes, and other climate change-induced disasters that now populate our news feeds. And there is precedent for bipartisan support of landmark environmental policy, most famously with the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency under Richard Nixon and a Democratic-controlled Congress. Yes, the country and our politics have changed radically since then — but so has the world we inhabit and the unrivaled threat we face.
The new climate patriot could be of any political persuasion, and could be just as easily driven by self-interest as by altruism. The unifying call to arms is simple: Save America.
In a Politico op-ed, former GOP representatives Ryan Costello and Francis Rooney argue that an essential step in forging a new bipartisan consensus on climate change is for philanthropic groups and environmental organizations to actively engage right-of-center communities. “[T]he climate movement has done far too little to lay the groundwork for bipartisan action … [missing] an opportunity to build a broader tent and [delaying] the elevation of climate as a bipartisan priority,” they write. “But without real engagement from the environmental movement, it becomes easy for our Republican colleagues to dismiss the issue as a liberal concern rather than a challenge confronting us all.”
Costello and Rooney may be outliers, but they are not alone. In fact, recent polling shows higher support among younger Republican voters than older ones for more aggressive climate action. Growing concern among conservatives about climate change has led to some shifts in how Republicans talk about the issue, even if the party writ large still opposes the kind of dramatic policy change needed to address the crisis.
Some military veterans have already begun to cast the fight against climate change as a patriotic duty, while Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin has proposed legislation that would allow Americans to buy bonds that fund the fight against climate change. These and other leaders understand that appealing to the patriotic instincts of both conservatives and liberals could neutralize those who are blocking the rapid transition to a clean energy economy that the climate crisis demands. It could hearken back to times in our history when the nation came together to face a common enemy. And it could break through the gridlock that imperils our future.