Friday's Washington Post features a very important op-ed by NRDC Action Fund board member and former House Science Committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert, a Republican who represented New York's 24th congressional district for over two decades before retiring in 2007. Surveying the incoming class of Republicans, Boehlert worries that a stance of global warming denial has become all but synonymous with his party's identity. He issues a resonant plea for a change of course:
I call on my fellow Republicans to open their minds to rethinking what has largely become our party's line: denying that climate change and global warming are occurring and that they are largely due to human activities.
The GOP needn't stake its reputation on climate denial, Boehlert argues. It's perfectly possible to be a Republican who doesn't support certain policy suggestions, but who still accepts that greenhouse gas emissions cause climate change. That is, disagreeing about climate policy is one thing, but rejecting climate science, despite overwhelming evidence, is something else:
I can understand arguments over proposed policy approaches to climate change. I served in Congress for 24 years. I know these are legitimate areas for debate. What I find incomprehensible is the dogged determination by some to discredit distinguished scientists and their findings.
Boehlert took climate science, and climate scientists, very seriously. He called them to testify, listened to what they had to say, worked to understand the nuances and uncertainties of the various issues.
But there are widespread fears that in the next Congress, we'll see a very different approach: attempts to assassinate the character of climate researchers, rather than calling upon them to provide useful information to aid in policymaking. Boehlert warns against this scandal-mongering tack:
The new Congress should have a policy debate to address facts rather than a debate featuring unsubstantiated attacks on science. We shouldn't stand by while the reputations of scientists are dragged through the mud in order to win a political argument.
In these intensely partisan times, Boehlert's voice is a rare but essential one. He helps underscore the fact that there are still many Republicans who want to have science and reason lead the way when it comes to dealing with our entwined climate and energy problems. Clean energy isn't a partisan issue. And when it comes to the reality of climate change, we can't afford to distort the debate with false information.
There's a better way--and Boehlert outlines it. Let's hope his Op-ed is widely read during this time of congressional transition.