Senator Jim Risch has come around to thinking that climate change is a “very, very troubling problem.” Risch told a Boise State University audience on Sept. 13 he “thinks” climate change is “a very valid theory, that it’s caused by human emissions,” and “the world’s in a very precarious situation, if that’s the case.” He agreed with a Pentagon assessment that climate change is a national security threat. This certainly indicates that we ought to take action.
Not so fast, though, because he also said that if it’s as bad as scientists say, “I don’t know that there’s anything anybody can do about it.” So, it’s bad but, golly gee wilikers, ain’t nothin’ can be done about it.
Risch did offer a solution of sorts to the students, however — “You kids, we’re handing this off to you in not too long. So I hope you’ll study it, and I hope you’ll have the answer by the time we get there.” The picture that comes to mind is the Road Runner handing Wile E. Coyote a bomb with a short, burning fuse. Good luck, kids, it’s your problem, not mine.
When I was growing up in the Republican Party, it was considered a patriotic duty to vigorously attack existential problems confronting the country. When the Soviet Union got the hydrogen bomb in the 50s and seemed intent on taking over the world, Republicans did not cower in their Washington offices, hoping the big bad Russians would go away. If they had, we’d all be speaking Russian now.
Presidents of both parties rallied bipartisan support in successive Congresses to appropriate billions of dollars (trillions in today’s values) to meet and eventually defeat the Soviets. At that time, we all thought there was nothing this country could not do once we set our mind to it. We have the technology now to slow global warming to the extent we can leave a habitable world to future generations of Americans. We can’t do it if we shrink back from fulfilling our patriotic responsibility to our children.
It is a colossal cop-out to say we can’t do anything to protect our kids or that they have to take care of the ticking time bomb we are handing them. American leadership can get the job done. It worked in defeating the Soviet Union and it worked in keeping the protective ozone layer at the Earth’s poles from being eroded by chlorofluorocarbons, which are used in refrigeration. The U.S. banned CFCs in 1978 and eventually brought almost 200 countries onboard to eliminate the threat they posed to the planet. Slowing global warming will be an even bigger job, but we can do it if we can just muster the moral and political courage.
Like confronting the USSR and eliminating CFCs, the U.S. needs to work with other countries to solve this common threat. Risch, Senator Mike Crapo and their Republican colleagues need to speak out and educate the public as to the imminent danger. America should take the lead to build on the Paris Climate Accord, but this time with hard emission limits for each polluting nation.
The top 10 polluting countries account for two-thirds of the carbon dioxide emissions. They need to be the major focus of any agreement. Smaller polluting nations could be given targets enforced by a variety of carrots and sticks.
The hard limits for the top 10 could be enforced by a variety of trade and tax provisions targeting violators. Those limits should be written into every trade agreement. For example, if a country wants to sell its goods or services in the U.S., it must be in compliance with its emission limits. The European Union is working on a variation that would tax goods brought in by a foreign firm that pollutes.
This should be accompanied by a Manhattan-style research effort for means to eliminate or sequester carbon dioxide emissions, to store green energy and to find other solutions to fight climate change. It can be done, and it must be done before our kids are handed the job of cleaning up the mess we have created. It will then be too late. The time is now for Risch, Crapo and the Republican Senate majority to muster the courage and patriotism to protect America’s future. I’m fervently hoping those essential qualities have not gone AWOL from the Grand Old Party.
Jim Jones is a former Idaho attorney general and a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice. His previous columns can be found at JJCommonTater.com