Do Republican Candidates Care About Science, Voters, or Religion?

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FOX Debate, Republican Idol (By DonkeyHotey, via Flickr)

Originally published on EdenKeeper.

Last week, Republican presidential hopefuls once again took the stage to debate their policies and platforms on issues ranging from immigration, to Obamacare, to Donald Trump. It’s easy to predict what they will say or what they said even without watching; they’ll call for border fences, an end to affordable healthcare, and blast the man beneath the toupee for his racist and misogynistic statements. But if they want to really set themselves apart from the conservative mass (and perhaps win themselves the nomination), they only need to do one simple thing: call for climate action.

The Science Is Clear

The argument that climate science is wrong or too alarmist is so 2012 (although, it was even outdated then). The evidence that climate change is happening now is overwhelming. Cartographers have redrawn maps to reflect the melting arctic and disappearing coastlines of Alaska and Louisiana. Weather patterns are noticeably different. The U.S. Department of Defense is amping up its presence in previously ice-blocked areas.

That’s why it’s just plain ridiculous that Ben Carson, the only Republican within striking distance of frontrunner Trump, questioned climate science at an event in San Francisco last week. “I know there are a lot of people who say ‘overwhelming science,’ but then when you ask them to show the overwhelming science, they can never show it,” Carson told the San Francisco Chronicle. “There is no overwhelming science that the things that are going on are man-caused and not naturally caused.”

California Governor Jerry Brown immediately called Carson’s bluff. He called the presidential candidate a “science denier” and sent Carson a computer flash drive containing the entire United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. His letter accompanying the flash drive didn’t hide his disgust with Carson’s ignorance:

“This is just one of the thousands of reports authored by the world’s top scientists on the subject, including a study published just last month by Columbia University, University of Idaho and NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies scientists that found climate has intensified California’s drought. These aren’t just words. The consequences are real.”

Republican candidates can continue pretending climate science isn’t real. They can also pretend the sky is red and the ocean is yellow. But the people may want a president who’s a little more grounded in reality.

The People Want It

‘Climate Change Kills’ liferings at the Global Day of Action (Photo by Oxfam International available on Flickr)

People want a president who will do something about climate change. According to a poll conducted earlier this year by The New York Times, Stanford University, and the nonpartisan environmental research group Resources for the Future, an overwhelming majority of the American public, including half of Republicans, support action to curb climate change.

In March 2015, the Yale and George Mason found that a solid majority of Americans “strongly” or “somewhat” support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant. Specifically, seven in ten Americans (70%) “support setting strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired plants to reduce global warming and improve public health, even though the cost of electricity would likely increase.” Most Americans also support policies to increase renewable energy.

And it’s not just liberal tree huggers who are calling for climate action. Conservative Christians also believe the government should do more to protect the environment. In a new report published by the Public Religion Research Institute, more than seven in ten (73%) Catholics believe the U.S. government should do more to address climate change. And the Center for American Progress found that a majority of Protestants believe “responding to climate threats will help ‘avoid more serious economic problems in the future.'”

Religion Mandates It

The growing concern among people of faith is a product of the growing environmental movement in religious communities.

Pope Francis’s call for climate action, as seen in his recently released environmental encyclical, has set fire to an environmental ethos that has been brewing in congregations and religious organizations for decades. Christian religious leaders have repeatedly advocated for action on climate change, divestment from fossil fuels, access to clean drinking water and air, and the protection of species. When a small, Presbyterian church in West Virginia, one of America’s biggest coal states, went solar, the pastor made the case for the religious responsibility to honor the environment.

“The earth and its wondrous web of life is clearly not of our making,” said Randy Tremba, pastor of Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church. “It’s a gift and we know it. Or should. It’s our job to sing its praises, photograph its wonders, and treat it with the utmost gratitude and respect. It is sacred. Every step we take is on holy ground.”

The growing Christian environmental movement is not something Republican politicians should ignore. After the 2014 mid-term elections, Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition released a poll showing that conservative Christians represented a third of the electorate and over half of total Republican voters. “This is not only the largest single constituency in the electorate,” Reed said, “but it is larger than the African-American vote, the Hispanic vote, the union vote, and the gay vote combined.”

If politicians like Jeb Bush continue to ignore their pope and their electorate by not taking climate action, Republican voters may begin to wonder just who they actually represent.

It’s Time for a Change

A leadership vote within Australia’s ruling Liberal Party recently led to the controversial Prime Minister Tony Abbott being replaced by his rival Malcom Turnbull. Abbott, famous for his opposition to climate action, differs significantly from Turnbull when it comes to the environment. In 2009, Turnbull described Abbott’s climate policies as “bullshit.”

In Canada, the same thing is happening. The country’s prime minister, Stephen Harper floated the idea of a “conservative alliance among ‘like-minded countries’ to work against global climate-change efforts proposed by the Obama administration.'” And now Harper has to atone for his anti-environmental policies in a tough election. People across Canada are crashing campaign events of all the major political party leaders to demand answers on the climate.

The time to scoff away climate change as “liberal” or “alarmist” is over. It’s happening and Americans — even Christian conservatives — want their leaders to take action. Republican presidential candidates can continue to blow off the issue as they have done in the past. But if they actually want to steal some of Trump’s glory (and headlines), it’s time for a change.

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Avaaz Action Day (Photo by Adopt A Negotiator available on Flickr)

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