Republican members of the South Carolina congressional delegation should join Sen. Lindsey Graham as members of the new Roosevelt Conservation Caucus, a climate and environmentally conscious group of legislators from the House and Senate founded last month with Mr. Graham as its Senate co-chairman.
So far, as reported last week by The Post and Courier’s Schuyler Kropf, the delegation appears to be holding back.
That’s too bad. A sensible GOP position on climate change and conservation polices is sorely needed.
The choice, as Sen. Graham put it, is between heavy-handed federal intervention in the economy and enlisting the private sector to get involved in seeking solutions. “From a Republican point of view,” he said, “I think we need to showcase that we care about conservation, we care about the environment and we have innovative solutions that are not top-down regulatory solutions.”
“Climate change is a real, scientific phenomenon and a problem for the planet,” Sen. Graham said last week at The Post and Courier Pints and Politics forum in Charleston. At last month’s caucus launch he said, “I’ve traveled around the world and studied this issue, and when nine of ten scientists say CO2 emissions are creating a greenhouse gas effect and the planet is warming up, I believe the nine out of the ten, not the one.”
Addressing President Trump’s skeptical approach to the problem, he added, “I would encourage the president to look long and hard at the science and find the solution.”
The caucus is named after President Theodore Roosevelt, who took the first major steps to create national parks and forests to preserve and conserve the nation’s natural heritage. At the turn of the 20th century there were two opposing approaches to the natural environment, heavily debated in the public press. John Muir was the principle advocate of “preservation,” which meant leaving the wilderness largely untouched. Gifford Pinchot was the champion of “conservation,” which allowed economic development on public lands, within limits.
Although President Roosevelt camped in the wild with John Muir in Yosemite park, in the end he sided with Mr. Pinchot, making him the first head of the U.S. Forest Service. In a 1910 speech, the former president said, “Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land, but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.”
Today, the environmental challenges that face us very much concern “the generations that come after us.” The fossil fuels we burn generate CO2 that will remain in the atmosphere for nearly 40 years.
But climate change forced by human activity is a global problem that cannot be solved by any nation or group of nations acting alone. Although the United States today emits no more CO2 than it did in 1990, and the European Union as a whole has actually cut emissions 20 percent below the 1990 level, the world as a whole is emitting 65% more CO2, led by rapidly modernizing nations such as China (350% more) and India (300% more), according to a 2018 report from the Publications Office of the European Union.
Developing nations are unlikely to cut back their use of fossil fuels that power their economic growth. That means U.S. public policy will have to look at more than reducing CO2 emissions. Federal, state and local policies will have to adapt to the effects of climate change, like finding innovative ways to fund projects such as the repair and strengthening of the Low Battery seawall in Charleston.
Both major political parties will have to work together to come up with sensible adaptation policies and the funds to implement them. Sen. Graham and his allies in the Roosevelt Caucus are taking a major step in the right direction. South Carolina Republicans should give them their wholehearted support.