It is now 2014. That’s eight years after the release of “An Inconvenient Truth” and the Stern Review, 17 years after the signing of the Kyoto Protocol and 26 years after James Hensen first testified before Congress about the dangers of human-induced climate change on international security.
But instead of having a spirited debate about how best to combat what our own President Salovey calls the greatest challenge of our time, the Connecticut gubernatorial election has stooped to a much lesser squabble: whether humans have actually caused climate change in the first place.
Republican candidate Tom Foley, who is currently tied in the polls with Governor Dan Malloy, has refused to acknowledge the solid scientific evidence that human-induced climate change exists.
In fact, when asked point blank about the issue in a recent debate, Foley dodged the question entirely. His exact words: “I think it doesn’t really matter.”
Quite frankly, hearing this refrain over and over again from the right wing of the Republican Party is extraordinarily frustrating. Not because they are so clearly wrong about the basic facts of environmental science (they are), and not even because their lack of action will surely lead to further environmental destruction (it will), but because I know that my Republican peers deserve better.
I still distinctly remember a forum the Yale College Republicans hosted during my freshman year on “free-market solutions to climate change.” They had moved past the fringe position of climate denial and marched forward with their own solutions to the problem in a way that aligned with their free market values. Even as a progressive, I was proud. It seemed my generation, whatever the cynics may say, had collectively shaken off the ignorance of climate deniers and come together to solve our most urgent crisis.
Certainly, we haven’t always agreed with each other on environmentalism here on campus. In the ongoing debate over divestment, for example, student activists have consistently demanded that the University divest from fossil fuels, and the Yale Corporation has consistently refused to do so. It’s a complex issue, but the Corporation never denied that climate change was an extremely dangerous problem worth addressing.
In fact, the prevailing question on campus has never been whether climate change exists, or even whether humans are the principal drivers of climate change. President Salovey, as much as I may disagree with him on divestment, never twiddled his thumbs and said something as preposterous as, “I’m not an expert on global warming, so I haven’t had a chance to read all the reports and have an independent opinion” — as Foley said at the debate.
Yale’s administration and student body simply get it: Climate change is real, and we need to act now.
But the same cannot be said of Foley. We are now a decade and a half into the 21st century, yet we still have a candidate running for governor of Connecticut who refuses to acknowledge humans’ role in climate change. That position should be unacceptable to anyone in my generation, regardless of party affiliation.
In the short run, we should deny Foley a platform from which to spew ignorance on a national stage. But in the long run, young Republicans should demand more from their leaders. They should vote in primaries and insist that any person who wants their vote step forward not just with an unambiguous commitment to addressing climate change but with a specific plan to put words into action.
There is a real debate to be had about how aggressively and with what tactics we should fight climate change. And it’s a debate that will require the smartest minds from every field and every major political party.
But it is no longer acceptable for either party to recklessly refuse to believe that we are contributing to climate change.
Tyler Blackmon is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. He is elections coordinator for the Yale College Democrats. His columns run on alternate Tuesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.