Climate Change Advocacy: The Challenge and Importance of Nonpartisanship

by Betsy Rogers

In today’s deeply divided political atmosphere, it is difficult – and yet ever more essential – for organizations focused on climate action to remain nonpartisan.  

As individuals, we will not be – and need not be – nonpartisan. But climate-change organizations must be sure that our messages resonate across the political spectrum if we are to achieve decisive federal action on what scientists recognize as the world’s most serious challenge. We must take care that this matter of deep importance to everyone does not fall into our destructive, us-versus-them political construct, in which the merits become irrelevant and all that matters is the other side losing. 

The reasons for nonpartisanship are many. First, though, we must acknowledge that being nonpartisan does not mean being mute. Climate advocates must respect the voices of all who want to participate constructively and support calls for climate action. Similarly, we must speak out against efforts to subsidize coal, for instance, or to hinder the development of renewable energy, to roll back incentives for hybrid and electric cars, to resume offshore drilling for oil, to deny the validity of climate science or to muzzle scientists. Such actions threaten the air we breathe, the water we drink, the land that produces our food, our homes, our health, our livelihoods and the very habitability of the Earth. 

If we don’t make the right decisions and take action now to combat climate change, we will abdicate our moral responsibility to future generations. It is that simple. 

But climate action in Congress almost certainly will require a bipartisan effort. Passing comprehensive legislation is incredibly difficult today. Realistically, success will depend on having sponsors from both parties. The best way to accomplish this objective is for voters on both sides to demand action. 

That kind of consensus is achievable. Though our current president rejects science, undermines crucial environmental protections and calls global warming a hoax in a cynical effort to divide us, national surveys consistently show that a majority of Americans – including majorities of Republicans and independents – recognize the dangers that climate change poses. These surveys also show that people across the political spectrum support strong measures to increase clean, renewable-energy production; reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and mitigate global warming’s effects. 

The president and some in Congress are thus fundamentally out of step with public opinion. To change this dynamic, Republicans, independents and Democrats must join in demanding a comprehensive federal climate action plan, rejecting the evisceration of the EPA and opposing efforts to silence other agencies, including the Department of Defense, about the threats of global warming. 

Clearly, then, climate messages must be nonpartisan and abjure the us-versus-them mentality that now dominates Congress. 

In reality, climate change is inherently nonpartisan. The effects of climate change know no political boundaries. Global warming and its attendant ills affect us all. Increasingly severe storms, ever more devastating wildfires, sea-level rise, Midwestern flooding and the impacts of fossil-fuel emissions and atmospheric warming on our health, our food and our water security make no political distinctions.  

We all have family members whom we love. Protecting our planet for them and others who come after us is deeply important to everyone.

People of different political philosophies have important contributions to make as we seek solutions to this grave planetary danger. No one has all the answers. Progressives look to government agencies to craft and enforce restrictions on fossil fuels, to promote renewable energy and to devise other effective strategies. Conservatives offer innovative, market-based solutions such as emissions trading. The vast majority of conservative and liberal economists strongly support a carbon tax, placing the high costs of greenhouse-gas emissions where they belong: on the companies responsible for them.

Businesses recognize both the risks that climate change poses to their success and their customers’ desire for a clean, healthy environment. They want certainty in regulation, not today’s constant upheaval. Their annual reports are clear: they know global warming is not a hoax, but rather, a real and accelerating danger. 

Farmers, too, fear our increasingly severe weather, as do insurance companies. The U.S. military has developed comprehensive strategies to address what it knows to be profound security threats posed by drought and famine aggravated by our changing climate. Whether you are Republican, independent or Democrat, if you live near the ocean, you know sea levels are rising and menacing our coasts. 

All these constituencies – conservatives and liberals, business people and farmers, insurers, military planners and others – acknowledge the fact of climate change and seek ways to address it. People of all political persuasions are taking steps to reduce their carbon footprints through everything from solar installations to recycling to carpooling to eating less meat. They’re saving a good deal of money in the bargain.

Science is not partisan. Scientists follow rigorous standards and methods to test the validity of their results. The overwhelming majority of climate scientists (97 percent of those publishing in peer-reviewed journals) tell us that climate change is real; it’s caused primarily by human action; warming is accelerating rapidly; and the window of time to address it is rapidly narrowing. They tell us this not because they’re Republicans or Democrats but because they’re specialists who have identified a grave and looming danger. “There is nothing partisan,” Harry Truman said, “about telling facts.” 

The extreme partisanship of today’s political discourse is a profound threat to the public interest. To counteract it, people of all political persuasions must demand action, shifting the debate from whether to act to how to act. We all want an effective and constructive government. We won’t achieve it unless people across the spectrum demand it.

Numerous groups are striving for this kind of overarching agreement. Nationally, for instance, the bipartisan Climate Leadership Council has assembled distinguished leaders of widely divergent political views – among them James Baker III, George P. Schultz, Ben Bernanke, Steven Chu, Christine Todd Whitman and Janet Yellen – and organizations such as the Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund, along with many leading corporations, to advocate for placing a cost on carbon. Utilities across the country are rejecting the president’s effort to promote coal by shutting down coal plants and building renewable solar and wind farms.

The reasons for hope are real. The seeds of effective, nonpartisan action are being sown. The Climate Change Coalition of Door County invites everyone – left, right and center – to join us in advocating for aggressive climate action.

Betsy Rogers is a (mostly) retired freelance writer and editor. She and her husband, Frank, spend their summers in Sister Bay in the cottage her grandparents built in 1926. She is a member of the Climate Change Coalition of Door County’s Steering Committee.