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  1. Opinion

Column: Florida Republicans are joining the climate change conversation

Brickell Avenue in Miami was flooded after Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Politicians of all stripes are awakening to the reality of climate change and its impacts in Florida. [Mike Stocker / Sun Sentinel/TNS]
Published Mar. 29

Awakening.

Florida, with its vast oceanfront borders and the geographic audacity to sit upon a main route for devastating hurricanes, is understandably an incubator for conservatives willing to act on climate change.

Florida's awakening may be the start of a solution.

When clear day flooding laps brackish water onto coastal thoroughfares in Miami and Clearwater, the cars that are ruined aren't Republicans' cars or Democrats' cars. They are Americans' cars.

As stronger storms, fueled by warmer Atlantic waters, level Florida towns, the homes and businesses destroyed are not Democrat or Republican. They are American homes and businesses.

As saltwater invades aquifers and contaminates drinking water in Jupiter, as trending record heat pounds Orlando, as Tampa is more susceptible to surge, wind, and rain-flooding from a hurricane-hit than just about any other Florida city, the effects on lives and the real costs are not borne by Republicans or Democrats. They are borne by Americans.

The nation can't sleep through another moment arguing over who was right first or who was wrong longer. We are awakening together, nudging our neighbors, gathering momentum toward an American solution, not merely a partisan reaction. As more Americans experience the local effects of shifting global climate trends, the solution will transcend party.

We have approached a tipping point at which conservatives — and not just Floridians like U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney and Gov. Ron DeSantis — are entering the climate conversation. Take, for example, the title of the press release issued recently by the Republican side of the House Energy and Commerce Committee: "Republicans are Focused on Realistic Climate Change Solutions." House Energy and Commerce Committee Republican Leader Greg Walden of Oregon and subcommittee leaders John Shimkus of Illinois and Fred Upton of Michigan followed up with a joint op-ed that opens with the sentence "Climate change is real, and as Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, we are focused on solutions."

Conservatives are rising up, awakening. They're entering the competition of ideas. America is getting ready to lead.

The same week, Republicans on the House Science Committee invited the Niskanen Center's Joseph Majkut to testify on climate science, instead of opting to invite the hoaxers or luke-warmers they've brought before the committee for the past decade. Ranking Republican Frank Lucas of Oklahoma opened that hearing by stating, "We know the climate is changing and that global industrial activity has played a role in this phenomenon."

Awakening.

These dramatic shifts by Republican members of Congress may be informed by significant improvements in the salience and acceptance of climate change. A joint Yale-George Mason University Climate Change Communications survey found two in three voters are worried about climate change. Half of Republicans and one in three conservative Republicans are worried about climate change, the highest level since the survey began in 2008 and a nine-point increase from just a year ago. A Monmouth University polls shows acceptance of climate change by two in three Republicans, up 15 points in three years.

From pews, public squares and bully pulpits, there are more neighbors to nudge, more awakenings to instigate.

While the awakening EcoRight stands, looking bright-eyed skyward, the increasingly marginalized climate disputers will be scurrying for the shore. Fossil lobbyist Mike McKenna shines the light where awakened leadership translates from soapboxes to political action when he warns in Fortune, "The right thinkers in the caucus will reassert themselves, or lots of members will find themselves on the business end of a primary."

The Green New Deal wanders as a progressive manifesto way beyond climate action, but it can serve a purpose. Quite often, progressives ring alarms, but then it's up to conservatives to supply solutions. We've seen this time and again when the environment was at risk. The passionate left meets the pragmatic right. We have to get there again on climate change, a challenge intensified during a time when the knee jerk reaction is to point fingers at the other side instead of sitting down together — as Americans — at the negotiation table.

Elected Republicans are looking for a safe harbor on climate action — deep enough to draw on conservative principles, wide enough to encourage freedom, and sunlight enough to spawn free enterprise innovation. The Sunshine State, audacious and brave, threatened and optimistic — awakened in the face of a political stirring — should be where it all starts.

Former Republican Rep. Bob Inglis represented South Carolina's 4th District from 1993 to 1999 and 2005 to 2011. Inglis is the executive director of republicEn.org, a group of conservatives engaging conservatives on climate change. Jason Leclerc is a longtime resident of Florida's I-4 corridor, an author, poet, economist and regular contributor to Watermark Magazine.

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