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When the Republican candidates talk about climate change

Ever since I watched the Republican’s presidential debate on September 16, I’ve been experiencing existential arthritis. My sense of purpose feels stuck—it’s hard to get up in the morning and think life has meaning after listening to hours of righteous declarations backed not by reason but by ideological commitments that will kill us all if they ever get enacted.

Over the course of the hate-mongering asides about falsified videos, outlandish descriptions of how to build a bigger wall, and seeming agreement that “all war, all the time” should become the new slogan on our currency, right next to the image of Rosa Parks, climate change entered the picture only twice. Once when Marco Rubio said he’d brought his own bottle of water, and a second time, when Rubio, Chris Christie, and Scott Walker all argued—in their own ways—that nothing should be done about climate change.

I confess. In a fit of depression due to my arthritic existential condition, I find succor in the Netflix series “Madam Secretary,” about a woman who, with her loving, smart, and handsome husband is raising three teens while serving as Secretary of State. In my nearly favorite episode so far, Bess (as she is affectionately known) reams out the Chinese ambassador for pursuing oil drilling in the Amazon basin. “You have kids,” she says to him, raising her voice. “What kind of future are we leaving them?”

At least the protagonist of “Madam Secretary” is worried about climate change. She clearly recognizes the implications that our current lack of action will have on her kids: their existential conditions will be shaped by floods, droughts, shortages of water and food, massive migrations, and armed conflict, all the time. In other words, although she hasn’t said this yet, it’s reasonable to infer that our current failure to address climate change will bring about windfall profits for defense contractors, proportional only to the misery created for millions of others on our heated planet.

Let’s do nothing

Contrary to the ten House Republicans who have signed on to a call for action on climate change, the three presidential contenders who spoke to the issue in the September 16 debate all argued that we should do nothing.

Some might argue that progress has been made in that both Marco Rubio and Scott Walker claimed to shed their titles as climate change deniers. “Skeptics” is their preferred term, especially since they are skeptical of all measures proposed by the federal government that would have any impact on the economy. (It’s hard to know what this actually means, since doing nothing will create a healthy climate for the weapons manufacturers and private security forces, given expected levels of global flooding, drought, and crop failures. I think they mean they are skeptical of any measures that would affect the profits of corporations funding their campaigns—but they weren’t that specific.)

Marco Rubio argued that regulating carbon emissions from coal plants “will do absolutely nothing to change our climate.” Christie said that regulations would have no effect on the drought in California. (On her website, Carly Fiorina attributes the drought in California to “liberal environmentalists.”) Scott Walker, no longer in the running, agreed that regulations would do little, so why have them at all?

Rubio’s second argument for doing nothing was that the Chinese aren’t doing enough. Why behave well if someone else is acting badly? (This from an avowed religious man—part Mormon, part Catholic, part evangelical Christian.) Meanwhile, even while Rubio reverted to the trope of avoiding leadership at all costs, the lead Chinese climate negotiator was meeting his counterpart from the U.S. in Los Angeles, to announce actions in both countries aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Both President Obama and President Xi Jinping are working towards completion of a deal at the United Nations summit meeting in Paris this fall.

Knowing one thing and doing what works best for you

In a September 18 article posted on the New Yorker website, Bill McKibben calls attention to a series of articles released by Inside Climate News, (, showing that as early as 1977, Exxon knew that “its main product would heat up the planet disastrously.” What was Exxon’s response to its scientists’ research? Fund extreme climate-denial campaigns, borrowing strategies (and strategists) from the tobacco industry.

The success of the oil corporations is evident today. As McKibben points out, the Obama Administration has given the oil industry permission to drill in the Arctic, is considering ending a ban on oil exports, and is likely to grant rights for offshore oil drilling along the Atlantic. Corporate power wins again. The argument presented by Rubio, Christie and Walker to do nothing in fact is an argument in support of big oil. And it comes at all the expense of all the rest of us.

But then again, never underestimate us: I-732

The Carbon Washington campaign to get a carbon tax on the 2016 ballot (assuming the WA State Legislature fails to act) announced mid-September that it had reached the 200,000-signature mark, ahead of predictions and completely on target. Carbon Washington’s I-732 staff and volunteers collected 70,000 signatures in August, from people who support the implementation of a carbon tax modeled after the one enacted in British Columbia.

I-732 would put a tax on fossil fuels ($25/ton), affecting individuals and businesses. To reduce the impact on individuals, I-732 would also lower the state sales tax by 1%, fund a tax rebate for working families, and reduce the Business and Occupation tax. The goal is to tax more of what we want less—fossil fuel consumption, and tax less what we need and want more of—individual consumption, business activity, while also providing support for low-income, working families. To make it onto the ballot, Carbon Washington organizers want to get a total of 330,000 signatures. (If you haven’t signed the petition yet, and are or would like to become a registered voter in WA State, check here or here to find out how you can sign, and help gather more signatures.

The Republican presidential candidates might want to ignore the reality of climate change, but not all Republicans do. Eleven Republican representatives (at least five of whom are Catholic) signed onto the “Environmental Stewardship Resolution” on September 17, just ahead of Pope Francis’ Congressional speech. That action, plus the 200,000 Washingtonians who have signed in support of a statewide carbon tax, along with the hard-working volunteer signature gatherers, are helping to remedy my existential arthritis.


Emily Lardner lives and works in Olympia, Washington.

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