Energy & Environmental Policy Technology Policy

Climate Change: A non-partisan issue in Texas?

Some interesting recent polling, including work done by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, suggests a narrowing gap between California and Texas over climate change concerns. This may be surprising to many since Texas’s political leaders take a hard line on restricting greenhouse gas emissions compared to public leaders in the Golden State.

Governor Perry’s attorney general, Greg Abbott, has sued the Environmental Protection Agency 17 times, while Commissioner Shaw of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has been publicly skeptical of climate change. At Texas Tribune Fest Mr. Shaw suggested that carbon dioxide might not be the cause of global temperature changes.  Surprisingly, these comments came just days after the release of the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which demonstrated ever increasing consensus from the scientific community.

However, the data from Yale suggests that the citizens of Texas may be more open-minded than our politicians. In this poll, 70% of Texans said that global warming is happening compared with 79% of Californians. Closer to home, 52% of Texans say they have been personally affected by climate change compared with 55% in California. With the majority of citizens in our red state showing personal concern, should climate change be considered a partisan issue?

A growing number of op-eds and other written work suggests that the answer to this question is no. In August of this year, four EPA administrators who served Republican presidents published A Republican Case for Climate Change in the New York Times.  In this letter, these Republican administrators wrote that there is no longer any credible scientific debate over climate change.

Each EPA leader claims successes in implementing conservative solutions to environmental problems.  The Clean Air Act of 1990, passed under the first Bush administration, has become the model for market-based solutions and has also virtually eliminated acid-rain as a public concern.  However, in the Times they argue, “Climate change puts all our progress and our successes at risk…The only uncertainty about our warming world is how bad the changes will get, and how soon. What is most clear is that there is no time to waste.”

Bevis Longstreth made an even stronger case in the Huffington Post last week.   Twice appointed as SEC Commissioner by President Reagan, Mr. Longstreth argues that public endowments, like UTIMCO here at The University of Texas, should sell their fossil fuel related stocks.  The basis of his argument is that the known reserves of fossil fuel will be not be utilized when governments take serious action on climate change as called for by Republican E.P.A. administrators.

Perhaps most surprisingly, these arguments are being made with increasing frequency in the conservative financial services industry. In a letter to investors dated 25-January-2013, HSBC warned clients that as much as 60% of the market value of publicly traded fossil fuel companies is at risk.  Similar analysis has been done by Citi, Standard and Poor’s, public pension funds, and PricewaterhouseCoopers which called climate change “the mother of all risks that we’ll face this century.”

Meeting the world’s energy needs, ending energy poverty, and simultaneously addressing the risk of catastrophic climate change is a pressing challenge.  But is it still a political issue?  A growing chorus of conservative and market-oriented voices says no.  With an increasing majority of Texans agreeing, our current political leadership may be the ones out of step.purple_Texas_Map_2012

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