Last month’s Republican presidential debate focused on national security, but none of the candidates was asked about or discussed a problem the Department of Defense identified in a recent report as an “immediate risk.” This problem is a threat multiplier that will “aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence,” the report said.
If the moderators had done their homework, they would have asked the candidates what should be done to eliminate this threat multiplier.
The Department of Defense’s threat multiplier is climate change. In addition to aggravating stressors overseas, climate change will increase demands on the military to assist civil authorities with providing disaster relief in the face of more frequent and intense natural disasters. There is also concern about rising sea levels and flooding in coastal cities.
We are starting to see direct evidence of climate change and sea level rise along the East Coast. Norfolk, Virginia, home to the largest naval base in the world, experienced two tidal flooding events per year in the 1970s. It now has six floods a year. Tidal flooding in Charleston, South Carolina, also home to a large military base, has increased from two or three a year in the 1970s to 10 or more now, and this is just flooding from normal high tides, not storms. Miami Beach, Florida, experiences “sunny-day” flooding where, during high tides, water seeps through the limestone below the city, comes out storm sewers and floods the city.
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If Republican presidential candidates were serious about national security, they would tell us what they would do to eliminate or mitigate against this “immediate risk.” Instead, they reject the advice of our military leaders as if pretending the problem does not exist will make it go away.
Donald Trump has said he is not a believer. According to Ted Cruz: “Climate change is the perfect pseudoscientific theory for a big-government politician who wants more power.” Marco Rubio said: “We’re not going to make America a harder place to create jobs in order to pursue policies that will do absolutely nothing, nothing, to change our climate.”
There was a time when being conservative meant acting to protect, conserve and be good stewards of our environment; to responsibly plan for all market factors; and to base policy decisions in science and quantifiable facts on the ground. Ignoring problems is not a conservative principle. Letting problems fester is not a conservative principle. Passing problems to our children and grandchildren instead of solving them is not a conservative principle.
Several months ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency reported that 2014 was the hottest year on record. In November, NOAA reported that 2015 had been so warm that, regardless of temperatures through the end of the year, 2015 would be hotter than 2014. This past spring, global concentrations of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere surpassed 400 parts per million for a monthly average. The problem is not going to just go away, and the more CO2 we pump into the air only makes the problem worse.
A true conservative would listen to our military leaders, acknowledge the science and the facts, and work to reduce the risk. Contrary to the baseless statements of Cruz and Rubio, there is a conservative, market-based plan to address climate change that will not cede power to a big government politician and that will help create jobs. It’s a solution favored by ExxonMobil, Elon Musk and former Secretary of State George Shultz: a revenue neutral carbon tax.
If structured so that all funds collected are returned to the public through monthly payments, such a plan would create millions of jobs and reduce CO2 emissions much more than EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Such a plan would also help shrink the size of government because many regulations and complex tax rules could be eliminated.
It is time for politicians who label themselves as conservatives to start acting like true conservatives and present proposals to solve the problem.
Bill Blancato is a Winston-Salem attorney who has organized a local group for Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which is lobbying Congress to enact a revenue neutral carbon tax.