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Thursday, 14 September 2017 08:19

After Harvey and Irma, Climate Denying Republicans Need to Wake Up

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In the thrall of big money from the fossil-fuel industry, the Republican Party has spent the last eight years stonewalling and refusing action, putting at risk the safety and security of our citizens and the future of our planet.In the thrall of big money from the fossil fuel industry, the Republican Party has spent the last eight years stonewalling and refusing action, putting at risk the safety and security of our citizens and the future of our planet. (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)ETHAN GOFFMAN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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Perhaps Hurricanes Harvey and Irma will be wake-up calls to the politicians of Texas and Florida about the realities of climate change. Both are states with climate-denying governors and populations that voted for denier-in-chief Donald Trump. Florida Gov. Rick Scott has even been widely accused of banning the term "climate change" among state employees.

It seems that Mother Nature is sending a message that, yes, climate change is real and this is only the beginning. No one knows where or when, but such disasters will only get worse in coming years. And the tables have turned, as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz came begging, hat in hand, for money from Congress when four years earlier he voted to deny such funds to New York and New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.

Nevertheless, those suffering the worst are the poor and people of color who had nothing whatsoever with denying climate change and do the least to cause it. So it seems that we should be sending whatever it takes to rebuild these lost homes and ways of life.

Yet the question is whether handing Florida and Texas all the cash they need is, in the long run, the best way to ensure a good future for the greatest number of people. It would amount to a blank check for our gas-guzzling, energy-devouring lifestyle that has done so much to cause the climate change that scientists widely agree is worsening hurricanes and causing heavier rainfall and rising seas. I would submit that, as many have pointed out, rebuilding in areas certain to flood again, and even providing flood insurance, is a recipe for future disaster.

In Congress, a coalition of progressives, environmentalists and even some fiscal conservatives needs to ensure that rebuilding take place in a responsible way. Besides revising government flood insurance, it is crucial to implement a nationwide climate emissions tax, a market-based plan widely endorsed by old-style conservatives as the best way to combat climate change. (After all, many conservatives endorsed some kind of action on climate change before the Republican Party became the party of climate denial).

In the thrall of big money from the fossil-fuel industry, the Republican Party has spent the last eight years stonewalling and refusing action, putting at risk the safety and security of our citizens and the future of our planet.

It is also intriguing that Trump has just dumped the Republican Party in return for a budget deal with Democrats. Perhaps this is a signal that new alliances are possible, that an "us against them" mentality between the two parties is breaking down.

If so, Republicans worried about climate change might agree to be part of a united front to combat it. Fiscally concerned Republicans, if they can summon the courage to break free from their energy benefactors, may very well support rebuilding efforts that don't subsidize foolishness and should support a carbon tax that does not raise overall tax rates. The solution here may be something like a fee-and-dividend approach -- recently proposed in Oregon -- that returns money collected for carbon pollution to the people.

Rebuilding Texas and Florida will be a long-term effort of years, if not decades, encompassing hundreds of billions of dollars. Demands to rebuild with resilience, and to fight climate change, thus can occur on a step-by-step basis each time money is appropriated.

These changes might be the only way to make up for the United States' foolish withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement that seems to constitute our last, best hope. A new coalition demanding changes that follow the spirit of the Paris agreement would rejuvenate the US international reputation and put pressure on other nations to enact similar measures.

We are living in apocalyptic times. Wildfires are sweeping the Western United States; storms and flooding more devastating than the impacts of Harvey and Irma have blasted India, Nepal and Bangladesh; mudslides have devastated Sierra Leone. All these phenomena, scientists agree, are likely exacerbated by climate change.

Yet this is only apocalypse part I. With the global rise in temperature expected to double, triple, or even quadruple, it will get much, much worse. We must do everything possible now to minimize the global disaster.