What is a Republican mayor from a conservative state that still depends heavily on coal doing on a White House panel on global warming and climate change? Good question. And easy answer.
Conservation of energy and improving our environment, in my opinion, should have little to do with political persuasion. Instead, reasonable voices on both sides of the political aisle should be able to join together and work toward strategies and solutions to deal with what science is proving about climate change.
Of course, such issues always have been near and dear to the heart of the Republican Party, going as far back as President Teddy Roosevelt , who preserved 230 million acres of wilderness, established five national parks and created the U.S. Forest Service, and to Indiana’s own William Ruckelshaus, a conservative who served two Republican presidential administrations and was the first head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
It was Richard Nixon who signed into law the National Environmental Policy Act, used to protect the environment whenever a major building project is proposed); the Marine Mammal Protection Act; the Environmental Pesticide Control Act; and the Endangered Species Act – which, along with the banning of DDT, helped rescue the American bald eagle.
More recently, there has been a constant drumbeat to make this much more of a cultural debate, rather than one of science. Both political parties try to paint opposing sides into extreme corners, from which it is nearly impossible to reach consensus.
As Boy Scouts we were taught to conserve. Our parents, as children of the Great Depression, recycled everything. The root of the word conservative is, after all, conserve. I would argue that, overall, both liberals and conservatives should be interested in conservation and energy independence. This is not only an issue of cleaning up our air and water. It’s a matter of quality of life.
This is why I am heading to Washington this week to take part in the President’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. This group of 26 members (I am one of only four appointed Republicans) was established to advise the administration on how the federal government can respond to the needs of communities like Carmel, Indianapolis and Kokomo, which are already dealing with those impacts, whether it be from poor air quality that hurts those with asthma or increasingly violent weather events, like the historic outbreak of November tornados that destroyed businesses in Howard County and across the state.
The most recent scientific report issued Dec. 2 by the prestigious National Research Council reinforced the warning that continued global warming could bring rapid and drastic changes. We are seeing bizarre things like the outbreak of mountain pine beetles out West and in Canada – insects that should have been killed off by bitter cold winter nights, but instead have survived to ravage millions of acres of forest. Then there is the drastic decline of summer sea ice in the Arctic. If, as predicted, that summer ice would ever completely disappear, the ramifications would not only affect those living in that region, but could also play a part in more bizarre weather patterns.
For our cities, this is about the need to address global warming’s impact on our electrical grids, our emergency response in the event of natural disasters. It’s about developing better building codes, switching to LED street lighting and, yes, to building more roundabouts that not only save time but millions of dollars in fuel not spent idling or taking off from a stoplight.
No, this issue isn’t just about saving polar bears. It’s about saving our cities. No matter your politics, there is overwhelming evidence of climate change and we as a nation have a moral obligation to address these issues. We need to continue to cut carbon pollution in America, certainly, but we also need to prepare for the impacts of a changing climate. I plan to use my seat on this panel to urge the federal government to take a stronger leadership role in helping our cities prepare for what is certainly coming our way.