Commentary, Guest Commentary

Guest Commentary: Common Ground on Climate Policy

By Eric Falls

With headlines emphasizing political battles over climate change, you may wonder if we can bridge the partisan divide.  In fact, surprising and positive examples challenge the conventional wisdom and create opportunities for all of us – Independents, Democrats, and Republicans – to deepen our understanding and seek solutions.

Conventional wisdom suggests renewable energy progress would come from traditionally Democratic states (“blue states”).  In fact, we can look to Republican states (“red states”) for inspiration.  Considering top renewable energy producers based on share of their market, red states top the list with four of the top five producers (Iowa (63 percent of all energy produced was renewable 2022), South Dakota (54 percent), Vermont (51 percent), Kansas (47 percent), and Oklahoma (45 percent).   Looking at total renewable energy produced in a year, Texas leads the nation by far based on the amount of clean energy produced (137 million megawatt hours), almost double the amount of the second largest producer, California.

Fear of rising energy prices remains a strong concern for most households – and for their elected representatives.  But the myth that progressives must raise energy taxes to advance a green agenda took a hit in the last few years as the price of renewables fell.  Now, market forces are driving a shift to clean energy.  

Solar and wind energy are now the cheapest option in most countries, according to the International Energy Agency, driving a global surge in renewable power deployment.  Renewables are projected to rise from 28 percent to 38 percent of global energy production by 2027.  Bloomberg reported in January that “investment in low-carbon technologies appears to have reached parity with capital deployed in support of fossil fuel supply.”

Skepticism of environmental activists might seem a knee jerk reaction for some conservatives.  However, former congressmen Ryan Costello and Francis Rooney, both Republicans, disproved that stereotype.  They recently called for greater outreach by environmentalists to build up the “eco-right” which would promote sensible action on climate change.  

As former members of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus of the House of Representatives, Costello and Rooney also outlined many examples of across-the-aisle cooperation.  The Republicans give a nod of approval to Democratic Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger’s 2022 Growing Climate Solutions Act, a bipartisan law which helps farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners participate in carbon credit markets which reward climate-friendly business efforts.  Congresswoman Spanberger’s initiative demonstrated the power of reaching beyond partisan boundaries and leveraging private sector support and dynamism for the benefit of the American people.

Progressives who are cynical about the private sector’s willingness and capacity to lead on climate change may change their perspectives after reading iconic businessman Bill Gates’ book, “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster.” Emphasizing the importance of new technology, Gates makes the case for getting to “net zero” carbon emissions.  Of course, he acknowledges the humanitarian arguments about the hardships millions would face from catastrophic climate change.  At the same time, he also makes powerful economic points:  “In the next decade or two, the economic damage caused by climate change will likely be as bad as having a Covid-sized pandemic every 10 years.”  Getting to “net zero” will be extremely tough, Gates explains, but the needed policy incentives and commitment to innovation will create immense opportunities. 

National security can be an area ripe for bipartisan cooperation, including when it comes to climate change.  The Department of Defense now identifies climate change “a critical national security issue and threat multiplier.”   For example, more scarce water resources may increase the number of conflicts around the world.  More immediately, extreme weather events “are already costing the Department billions of dollars and are degrading mission capabilities. These effects and costs are likely to increase as climate change accelerates.”    

Our military personnel require equipment and training to ensure they can maintain their superior performance in extreme conditions.  Richard Kidd, the Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for Environment and Energy Resilience, noted the U.S. military developed the capacity decades ago to operate at night, giving important tactical and strategic advantages.  “Looking forward to a hotter world, we need to be able to operate in all temperatures. We need to be able to own the heat the same way that we now own [the] night.”  

We need even more examples of successful bipartisan action to confront climate change.  Gates’ book offers multiple suggestions for citizens, entrepreneurs, and employees to move us forward locally and nationally.  Engaging our elected leaders at all levels of government – urging clean energy research and clean energy standards – tops the list.  Let’s all get to work. 

Eric G. Falls is a student at the National Defense University.  The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. government.