Posted on July 30, 2012
Originally published in The Hill.
It was Blaise Pascal who said, “Belief is a wise wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.”
Or, as my Uncle Bob puts it, “It might be a bunch of superstitious mumbo-jumbo, but then again, eternity is a long time.”
While Pascal and Uncle Bob were talking about religious belief, I think you can make the same point about global warming.
The debate over climate change has taken on a religious dimension. Al Gore thinks of himself as a latter-day John the Baptist, warning that our world of environmental sinners is doomed and that if we don’t change our ways quickly, we will soon be like the frog in the slowly boiling pot of water.
On the other side of the debate are the global-warming deniers. They share the same passion as the famed atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and nothing gives them greater pleasure than poking holes in the arguments of the environmental movement.
I have always been on the skeptical side when it comes to man’s role in climate change. We live in a big universe, most of which is out of our control, and that big universe has more to say about our climate than we do.
But to paraphrase Uncle Bob, Gore’s rantings might be a bunch of superstitious environmental mumbo-jumbo, but then again, this is the only Earth we have.
Republicans have increasingly put all of their eggs in the climate-change-denier’s basket. But this is politically risky for a couple of important reasons.
First, young people care about climate change. And they care about environmental protection. This issue is probably the No. 1 reason why the vast majority of young voters will vote Democratic this time around, despite the fact that the president has so woefully botched the economy and made it harder for the “green kids” to get a job.
Second, there is plenty of evidence that global warming is having an impact in how this nation does business.
Drought has plagued the Midwest, driving up the price of food and driving farmers to the point of desperation.
Rising sea levels and instability in the atmosphere put considerable pressure on insurance companies, a traditional Republican constituency. These insurers don’t have the luxury to insist that global warming is just a fad. It would help if Republicans would stop denying the evidence and start working with the industry to begin planning for the future.
The private sector, with the possible exception of the coal industry, understands the power of environmental messaging to consumers.
We live in the age of social and environmental responsibility. The American people want jobs, yes, but they also support efforts to take care of the planet.
And the fact of the matter is that it is getting hotter. You don’t need the weatherman to tell you that the summers are getting steamier and the winters are getting milder.
How do we handle a hotter planet? How do we plan for more droughts, higher sea levels, less drinking water, more tornadoes, crazier weather? How does that affect the crops our farmers plant, the fish we eat, the insecticides we use? How do we plan our cities differently? How do we build our houses differently in a much hotter world?
And can we take steps to control our own carbon footprint? What can we do to invest smartly in energy polices that will limit carbon emissions? Can we do this without killing jobs?
Five years ago, Republicans actively participated in these discussions. Now they shy away, worried about alienating their political base and perhaps some big funders.
But it might be more prudent for Republicans to rethink their environmental atheism. As my Uncle Bob says, eternity is a long time.