I am an old-fashioned conservative who believes in accepting responsibility, facing reality, tackling problems head on, and making sure we leave this world in better shape for our children and grandchildren.
It is through that conservative lens that I view the problem of climate change and the threat it poses to South Carolina. The weather’s just not the same as it used to be. Summer days are hotter, seas are higher, droughts are more prolonged, and violent storms are a threat year-round.
A climate change impacts report from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources called climate change a “threat multiplier” and warned of the very impacts that we’re beginning to see now. A new report on impacts in the Southeast from the nation’s top climate scientists put hard data on a wide range of coming changes, from 30 more days a year over 95 degrees to toxic algae blooms.
In 2012, the United States spent over $100 billion in response to extreme weather.
While South Carolina dodged Superstorm Sandy and is getting a break from the drought conditions that have plagued us for most of the past decade, we cannot afford to be complacent.
The risks are still plenty evident. Increases in water temperature are threatening the health of our lakes and rivers. Sea level rise and more frequent droughts jeopardize our salt marshes, tidal waterways and other coastal habitat. We are seeing dead zones off our coast, and a more acidic ocean is already endangering shellfish populations. Stronger hurricanes and higher seas increase threats to our coastal communities.
Agriculture, tourism, real estate, commercial and recreational fishing, hunting, the cost of electricity, are all increasingly affected by these climate impacts — posing a risk to our livelihoods and our quality of life.
Speaking about the health of “this magical planet God gave us,” President Ronald Reagan reminded us, “This is what we leave to our children. And our great moral responsibility is to leave it to them either as we found it or better than we found it.”
As South Carolinians, we need to ask ourselves: What kind of world are we leaving for our children and grandchildren?
Nothing is more conservative than being a good steward. Yet when it comes to climate change, there are too many on the political right — both here and in Washington — who still disregard the evidence, dispute well-established science, and ignore the problem.
In addition to shirking responsibility, they are leaving efforts to act on climate change totally in the hands of liberals.
I believe conservatives can craft innovative solutions to the climate problem. In fact, Republicans actually have the strongest track record on environmental issues.
Under Republican presidents, landmark legislation like the Clean Air Act and its amendments were signed. When scientists warned of a problem that seemed insurmountable — the depletion of the ozone layer — President Reagan pushed through an international treaty to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals.
And by developing a market-based system to trade pollution credits, Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush worked to reduce harmful acid rain.
No one would call these presidents bleeding-heart environmentalists, but they faced up to problems, and applied conservative principles to find real-world solutions.
That is what we need from our Republican leaders today. They need to rediscover the stewardship ethic that used to be the party’s soul.
Four former Republican EPA administrators recently came out in support of a national climate plan introduced by President Barack Obama. They made it clear that Obama’s approach was not the first path they would choose to address climate change. But given the urgency of the problem and the absence of any Republican alternative, they are behind it.
It didn’t have to be the only option. Several years ago Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has spoken out clearly and honestly about the need for conservatives to tackle climate change, came close to securing a bipartisan solution. Unfortunately that effort was undermined by election-year politics.
Sen. Graham understands that South Carolina is well-positioned to respond to climate change. Most of our energy is produced by nuclear power, which emits no carbon pollution. Our state is a national center of hydrogen energy research and our colleges and universities are already leaders in clean energy innovation.
South Carolina has an enormous opportunity to benefit when our nation takes action on climate change.
But first our Republican leaders need to constructively engage on the issue and propose real, fiscally responsible solutions that spur innovation and economic growth.
That would be genuinely conservative.
Chester Sansbury, a former assistant chief of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Bureau of Water, is an active Republican and conservationist.