If Barack Obama's acceptance speech last night is anything to go by, the political silence over climate change may finally be lifting.
But does that mean there will be decisive action?
The Battle of the Oil Men
Despite (former) Republican Mayor Bloomberg endorsing Obama over his stance on climate change, both the challenger and the President himself seemed to spend most of the campaign trying to out-fossil-fuel the other one.
"I'm an oil man."
"No, I'm an oil man."
That's about all I remember from the second presidential debate.
Signs of a Shift?
But besides the influence of Sandy putting climate change back on the political map, and the President's relatively solid victory giving him about as good a mandate as he could have hoped for, there is another reason to think that we could (I am by no means saying "will") see progress on the environmental front.
And that's Republicans.
Rationalism in Short Supply
True, the GOP has in recent years seemed to veer way off course when it comes to evidence-based climate policy—a stance that seemed to reflect a broader rejection of objectivity that included attacking pollsters when you didn't like their results; attacking poll analysts when you didn't like their reading of the pollsters results; and flirting with the idea that creationism is a valid scientific theory.
GOP Soul Searching
But this morning brings a realization for many in the GOP that playing solely to its base simply hasn't worked. With the demographic and cultural trends that helped propel Obama to victory getting more and more pronounced, it's unlikely to work in the future either. From immigration to welfare to taxes to women's rights, the list of issues that alienated moderates is long. But you can almost certainly add environmental concerns to that tally. From a lack of support for wind energy in Iowa, to ignoring the simple fact that—even before Sandy—most voters wanted climate action, the GOP shot itself in the foot by pandering to the Climategate conspiracists.
So what comes next? Kid Rock and Sean Penn may be able to find common ground, but does the GOP have anything to offer the environmental movement? Recent history would suggest no, but it's important to acknowledge that there are areas where the GOP could conceivably carve out some credibility.
Putting Conservation Back in Conservatism
By pushing itself as a "party of small business", there's an opening to talk about local communities and local economies that have suffered the downsides of outsourcing and globalization. By championing the notion of private sector innovation, there's an opportunity to get behind clean energy and new technology. By embracing science and reaching out to religious communities, there's a chance to capitalize on the growth of Creation Care. But to do all this, they have to once-and-for-all reject the idea that politics can simply be boiled down to a simplistic playground scuffle between big government and small, or "family values" versus whatever it is the rest of us are supposed to stand for.
Are any of these things likely? It's too soon to tell.
Fossil Fuels Are Not a Family Value
In a world where both parties are awash with corporate money—much of it coming from the fossil fuel lobbies—I don't put much faith in any politician taking the kind of courageous action that is needed. At least not without a substantive and sustained push from the electorate. Yet the GOPs crisis of confidence is an opportunity for the broader conservative movement to disassociate itself from extremism.
Perhaps they may entertain the notion that trashing the planet that is home to our civilization, our economy, and our electoral system for that matter, is not what most of us consider to be an example of traditional family values.
I live in hope.