The Politics of Climate – Panel 1

The Politics of Climate  

Is there a bipartisan path to climate change solutions?  

That was the central question of the panel “Finding Common Ground on the Politics of Climate,” a discussion between former U.S. Representatives Val Demings (D-FL) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL). The two former members of Congress brought perspectives from both sides of the aisle to progress on climate policy with an eye to sustainability and equity. The conversation was moderated by journalist and political strategist Bob Shrum, Director of the Dornsife Center for the Political Future at the University of Southern California.  

As a starting point, Shrum said, we can agree that “any rational debate about whether climate change is real has ended. According to the Pew Research Center, 42 percent of all adults now view climate change as a top priority — 65 percent of Democrats, but only 11 percent of Republicans. When it comes to specific policies, 69 percent of U.S. adults favor the United States taking steps to become carbon neutral by 2050 – that is, releasing no more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than is removed— which breaks down to 90 percent of Democrats and 44 percent of Republicans in favor of this goal. 

“I also think if we look at where we are these days, we’re in much greater agreement between Republicans and Democrats,” said Kinzinger. “I have actually been heartened over the last few years to see that there is in my party now a recognition that you can be pro-doing-something-about-climate,  and survive.” 

The real landscape of debate these days, Demings suggested, is the cost of solutions. Specifically, what strategies are worth the cost, how should they be prioritized, and to what extent responsibility rests with the public or private sector. “When I served as a law enforcement officer, and certainly as chief of police, the safety and security of the people in our community was our primary concern. When we talk about this very important issue of climate change, the safety and security of the American people should be our primary concern,” said Demings. “As a member of the Homeland Security Committee, we looked at the threat of climate change as a national security issue. And it is.” 

Both former Representatives pointed to recent legislation representing the most ambitious climate and clean energy laws and next-generation technologies in the U.S.  

“I like the investment in green technology. You have to weigh the fact that we have 31 trillion in debt in this country. How do we make wise spending decisions?” asked Kinzinger. “There’s a debate between what role the government plays in that, and what role the private sector plays. One of the amazing things that doesn’t get talked about enough in this country is the fact that the private sector has stepped up and invested in reducing America’s carbon output.” 

Why is it that the points of disagreement get more airplay than the areas of agreement? Demings asked. “I think one of the mistakes that we make when we’re trying to solve problems is we get bogged down where we disagree,” she said. “I think we should start every discussion defining those areas where you agree. And then decide, ‘How can I improve on those areas?’ “ 

One area of agreement between both Demings and Kinzinger is the importance of climate justice — the effects of climate change and global warming on underserved communities, and the belief that low-income areas should not endure lower quality air and water or suffer from inadequate aid when their areas are hit harder by climate disasters.  

“I don’t care what party you’re in, how can that not be important to you?” Demings asked. “And how can you not reach across the aisle and work with your colleagues on the other side to address those environmental justice issues? If we agree on that, that ought to be pretty doggone simple.”