Thom Tillis is a smart guy who understands data. He had a successful career as a high-powered management consultant before hitching a lightning-fast ride from Cornelius town commissioner to speaker of the N.C. House to U.S. senator.
So it was disappointing when Tillis, facing a competitive Senate primary in 2014, said climate change was not a fact. Tillis knew better, but such is the state of the Republican Party that even smart candidates like Tillis have to say such foolishness to win a primary.
Then in 2015, Tillis voted against an amendment that said human activity is contributing to climate change. And last year, Tillis urged President Trump to exit the Paris Agreement that called for international emissions reductions and was signed by 197 countries, including the United States.
Finally, Tillis has come clean. In a recent interview with Tim Boyum of Spectrum News, Tillis said, “I think we have to come up with several strategies to recognize reality. That climate changes. Sometimes it changes just because it has over millennia, and other times it changes because of human factors.” Tillis said he was influenced by the U.S. military’s concerns that climate change could lead to global instability and is a threat to national security.
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We’re pleased Tillis has left the Flat Earth Society and acknowledged that the planet is warming, that mankind is contributing to that warming, and that we have to do something about it. His previous statements and actions on climate change, particularly his urging Trump to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, have been harmful to our country.
Let’s not be naive. Tillis has made a political calculation. He reckons he is strong enough to turn back any Republican challenger in 2020 but likely to have a competitive race that fall when swing voters are unlikely to be swayed by a candidate who says global warming is a hoax, as President Trump has said.
Still, when a prominent Republican acknowledges that our industrialized, petroleum-fueled lifestyle has contributed to global warming, it’s reason for celebration. So we also were pleased to see that state Sen. Tamara Barringer, a Cary Republican, also has seen the light — or felt the heat (in more ways than one).
The Nature Conservancy has released a statement from Barringer, who faces a tough reelection campaign, that said, “We need to act now to mitigate and manage the risk of climate change. As responsible businesses have done so, we need to accept that climate change is a real threat and factor climate change mitigation into our future plans....As responsible legislators, we need to start talking about the risk of climate change and doing something about it.”
State Republicans haven’t exactly led the way in preparing for the effects of global warming. A state science panel reported in 2010 that seas on the N.C. coastline could rise by as much as 39 inches during the next century; the legislature responded in 2012, when Tillis was speaker, by putting a four-year moratorium on any state rules, plans or policies based on expected sea-level changes.
As retired Duke University coastal geologist Orrin H. Pilkey wrote recently in The News & Observer, the effects of climate change are here. The state, as well as coastal communities, must act now to adjust to rising sea levels.
We’re glad that Tillis is finally on the case. The first step he can take is to urge President Trump to reverse course, re-join the Paris Agreement and again stake the United States to a leadership position in preparing for and fighting climate change.