Bipartisanship is the Key to Addressing Environmental Issues
The American political landscape is incredibly polarized. Opposing sides are in constant battle mode and deliberately avoid compromise for the sake of appeasing their most partisan and energized supporters. This troubling dynamic surfaces in nearly every policy area, but it is especially prominent in the realm of environmental issues. Political theater, gridlock, and widespread refusal to work together have all stalled action to address the pressing environmental issues our country faces. If solutions are to be discovered for climate change, the energy sector, and conservation issues, opposing partisans must stop talking past one another and start talking to each other, as bipartisanship presents the only viable path forward.
Environmental issues have not always been so partisan. President Teddy Roosevelt proved instrumental in creating our public lands system, and President Richard Nixon led bipartisan efforts to create the EPA in wake of extensive pollution concerns. What stands out about these two environmental policy initiatives is that both were launched and led by Republican presidents, which is something we rarely see today. The environment, in part due to Republican inaction and flawed messaging, is a policy area increasingly associated with liberal ideology.
Rather than engage in topics dominated by Democratic voices and ideas, too many elected Republicans have instead chosen to forego proposing solutions and ignore environmental issues altogether. Of course, there are exceptions, with some Republicans – especially younger ones – expressing eagerness to prioritize and rethink these matters. For the most part, however, polling data suggests a large disconnect between Republican legislators and GOP voters. One poll shows that a majority of Republicans believe in climate change and support action to address it while another reveals that a whopping 69 percent of Republican voters are worried that the party’s climate stances hurt its standing with younger voters. Republican strategist Frank Luntz rightly points out that climate change presents “a GOP vulnerability and a GOP opportunity,” but the latter will only be realized if the party engages on environmental issues, something that is lacking right now.
The lack of Republican engagement on environmental issues would not be such a problem if Democrats were responsibly taking the lead. Instead, the Democratic Party has used Republican neglect of environmental issues as justification to perpetuate alarmism and engage in absurd political theater. Far left Democrats have promoted radical policies like the Green New Deal to satisfy progressive voters, despite knowing that such a massive undertaking is completely unrealistic and nonsensical. Democratic presidential candidates shamelessly tout without any supporting evidence that the world will end in 10 or 12 years if we fail to address climate change. It is also no coincidence that many of these candidates’ climate plans seem like expansive leftist manifestos as opposed to targeted policy proposals: most of them include a federal jobs guarantee, minimum wage increases, universal health care, and other initiatives that have little – if anything – to do with environmental issues. If these Democrats were truly serious about addressing climate change, they would not exclude nuclear power, the United States’ largest provider of carbon free electricity, from their lofty plans that seem to include everything else under the sun. Similar to climate change deniers on the fringe right, climate alarmists on the left are masters at virtue signaling and should be equally called out for their intellectual dishonesty.
Republican disengagement and Democratic alarmism present significant obstacles to addressing key environmental issues, but these flaws are predominantly isolated to the fringes of both parties. Fortunately, there are enough sensible people on both sides capable of overcoming seemingly inescapable divisions and pulling together for the greater good. This task is much easier said than done when considering that the fringe voices and radical ideas receive more coverage and drown out rational political actors. Earlier this year, for example, the Natural Resources Management Act, a historic bill that expanded public lands and reauthorized the Land Water Conservation Fund, passed through Congress in overwhelming bipartisan fashion but received little attention because it failed to showcase the partisan divisions that media outlets and the electorate often crave. While this positive step forward took place, the media instead chose to primarily cover the Green New Deal, which only hastened divisions that delay and inhibit bipartisan policymaking.
While making bipartisanship newsworthy may prove to be an impossible task, it’s past time for us to stop prioritizing the defeating and demeaning of the other side as opposed to getting things done. This starts with us: the voters. When we signal desire for division and disdain for the other side, our representatives act on these preferences by supporting radical policies like the Green New Deal or taking irrational positions such as denying climate change. By indicating fondness for bipartisanship, we voters can lead our representatives to combine Democratic enthusiasm with Republican market-driven ideas to solve pressing environmental concerns in a consensus manner. Combining the best ideas from both parties is a must, or otherwise we will have one side dominate the debate and end up with one extreme or the other. We will certainly not be able to agree on everything in the environmental policy arena, but Republicans, Democrats, and Independents should all be able to agree that the current political landscape on these issues, which forms a binary choice between the Green New Deal and virtually no action at all, is completely unacceptable and must change.