I’m a conservative Republican and I believe climate change is real. It’s time for my fellow Republicans in Congress to stop treating this environmental threat as something abstract and political and recognize that it’s already affecting their constituents in their daily lives.
If we don’t change our party’s position soon, our voters will punish us.
It is well past time for Republicans to recognize the increasing costs and dangers associated with a changing climate. Scientific data empirically substantiates rises in sea and land temperatures which have materially increased over the past 20 years, increased acid in our air and seas, and rising sea levels, which have also increased velocity over the past 25 years. In the past few years, the U.S. alone has experienced record-breaking tornadoes and flooding, devastating hurricanes, and expansive wildfires. The doubling of the deep ocean heat content in the past 20 years portends significantly more severe storms and hurricanes in the future, creating more and more calls for “disaster relief.”
I’m from a coastal district that is directly affected by these issues every day. In fact, my home state of Florida is ground zero for the adverse effects of climate change. As these extreme weather events increase in frequency and intensity, Congress — especially my Republican colleagues — needs to recognize the costs, disruptions and global security risks that climate change will bring to both our domestic and foreign policy, and the federal budget.
Americans are experiencing these disasters firsthand, and these personal experiences are informing their views on climate change regardless of their age or party affiliation. According to a poll conducted by Monmouth University in 2018, 78 percent of Americans believe the world’s climate is undergoing a change that is causing more extreme weather patterns and sea level rise. That same poll showed that 64 percent of Republicans surveyed believe in climate change, a 15-point increase from poll results just three years earlier.
Further, research conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2018 showed that 59 percent of U.S. adults say the effects of climate change are affecting their local community, and 56 percent of U.S. adults say protecting the environment should be a top priority for the president and Congress in 2019. Clearly, there is broad support for action on climate change, but there is even more consensus among younger generations. Among millennials, 81 percent believe the planet is warming, and even the youngest members of this generation are now eligible to vote. As young people begin to make up an increasing portion of the electorate, the importance of climate change on the policy agenda will only increase as well.
As elected representatives, it is time to step up and respond to the American people.
It’s important to remember that Republicans have traditionally led the way on important environmental issues. President Teddy Roosevelt established the U.S. Forest Service and many national parks to protect our natural treasures, President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and enacted the Clean Air Act, and President George H.W. Bush implemented measures to combat urban smog and acid rain by improving the Clean Air Act. We need to reclaim our legacy of Republican stewardship of the environment.
We have finally begun to see some Republican members of Congress change their positions on this issue. Several of my fellow conservative members have become some of the strongest advocates for environmental policy. Recently several senior Republican committee chairmen and policymakers publicly acknowledged that climate change is a real threat and must be addressed. My colleague from Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz is one of these members, and we now work closely on the environmental issues affecting our state. Earlier this year, we sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to make permanent a current ban on drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico that is set to expire in 2022. The moratorium was enacted by Republican President George W. Bush, with the bipartisan support of both U.S. senators from Florida, Republican Mel Martinez and Democrat Bill Nelson.
Climate and the environment must be bipartisan concerns, but Republicans are lagging. Congress must work together to find solutions that will advance the goals of both parties and the best interests of the American people. Presidents of both parties have shown leadership on this issue: President John F. Kennedy said that “our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
We need to work together, in a bipartisan way, to find common ground. This is where the most effective solutions will be found. In the words of President Ronald Reagan, “If you got 75 or 80 percent of what you were asking for, I say, you take it and fight for the rest later.”
If we want to show America that we’re the party of the future, then it’s time for all Republicans to return to their roots as champions of our environment.
Rep. Francis Rooney represents Florida’s 19th Congressional District.
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