The Republican Platform: Rolling the Dice on Climate

This is part of a series of short posts in which RFF scholars will analyze the environmental plank of the Republican and Democratic Party platforms. This week we’re looking at the Republican platform. Watch next week for a similar series of posts looking at the Democratic platform’s environmental agenda. As with all posts on Common Resources, this and other posts in this series are the opinions of the authors alone, not Resources for the Future.

The Republican Platform provides Party principles with respect to natural resources and the environment.

We are the party of sustainable jobs and economic growth – through American energy, agriculture, and environmental policy. We are as well the party of traditional conservation: the wise development of resources that keeps in mind both the sacrifices of past generations to secure that bounty and our responsibility to preserve it for future generations.

The first principle highlights sustainable economic growth, presumably meaning growth that continues for generations to come; while the second links “traditional conservation” to the preservation of nature’s bounty for future generations. Governance guided by principles ensuring the well-being of future generations is spot on. But, one then is left wondering why one of the greatest threats to the welfare of future generations of Americans – global climate change – is simply unaddressed.

Without mention of climate change in the environment section of the platform the Party calls for the reversal of current federal law to regulate the emission of gases causing climate change, but provides no substitute policy to control such gases.

We also call on Congress to take quick action to prohibit the EPA from moving forward with new greenhouse gas regulations that will harm the nation’s economy and threaten millions of jobs over the next quarter century.

There is little or no argument among economists that control of greenhouse gases will impose costs on American households and businesses, but the rationale is a straightforward cost benefit calculation that makes it fairly clear it is a lot less costly to control greenhouse gases now then it is for future generations to suffer the costs of climate change. This of course assumes one cares about future generations – but the Platform says the party does, highlighting principles of conservation and sustainability.

There is but one mention of climate change in the entire Platform and it occurs in the foreign policy section in reference to the current Administration policy. Here the Platform is very clear – it does not consider climate change a severe threat, but does the Party consider climate change to be any threat at all?

If we accept the premise the Republican Party does indeed wish to govern in manner that will ensure the welfare of future Americans, then we must conclude that as a Party they simply dismiss decades of accumulated science and conclusions by the overwhelming majority of US and international scientists that human caused climate change is a grave environmental threat. Granted, there is uncertainly with respect to the science: the outcome of global warming may not be as bad as we now believe, but then again, it could be much worse.

Wouldn’t the conservative thing be to buy some insurance, that is, govern in a manner that begins to reduce greenhouse gases now with a program that can be accelerated or adjusted as the scientific uncertainty is resolved? There are ways to do that consistent with conservative, free-market principles. A price on carbon emissions is the most cost- effective strategy: it’s hard to find an economist who would argue otherwise. If we interpret the Platform’s silence as indicating a total lack of concern for the climate issue, then its implicit policy proposal is to simply roll the dice with respect to the welfare of future generations of Americans.

About Raymond J. Kopp

Raymond Kopp is a senior fellow and co-director of RFF's Center for Energy and Climate Economics. He holds Ph.D. and MA degrees in economics and an undergraduate degree in finance. He has been a member of the RFF research staff since 1977 and has held a variety of management positions within the institution.

Views expressed above are those of the author. Resources for the Future does not take institutional positions on legislative or policy questions. All information contained on Common Resources is intended for informational and educational purposes and may only be used for these purposes. Please see RFF's Terms of Use for further information.

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