Political polarization has reached alarming levels in the United States, with few moderates remaining in either the Republican or Democratic party who are capable of bridging the partisan divide on many, indeed most issues. Climate change – and more broadly, environment – is one such issue. I’m pleased to say that in the most recent webinar in our series, Conversations on Climate Change and Energy Policy, sponsored by the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements (HPCA), we featured a conversation with Congressman Garret Graves, a Republican from Louisiana’s 6th Congressional district, who serves as the Ranking Member of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. A video recording (and transcript) of the entire webinar is available here.
As many readers of this blog know, in this webinar series I feature leading authorities on climate change policy, whether from academia, the private sector, NGOs, or government. In this most recent Conversation, I was fortunate to engage with someone who has had solid and important experience in government.
While stating that climate change is a “huge problem” in need of innovative solutions, Congressman Graves makes the case for bridging political divides by aligning environmental sustainability with economic sustainability.
It is significant that Graves represents a district that has been and will be seriously affected by climate change. The region has lost more than 2,000 square miles of coastline to subsidence and rising sea levels, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. “This is a huge personal issue for us…South Louisiana is a state that doesn’t have a large margin of error in regard to sea level rise.” he says.
Yet Congressman Graves also acknowledges that the political divides in Washington make it very difficult to agree on climate policies, noting that politics has become “a blood sport, with party first, and the country after that.” And he remarks that things don’t seem to be getting any better at the moment.
“I don’t see a trend in the right direction,” he says. “I think people are taking things that people used to be able to rally around, like kittens and dogs and apple pies, and found ways to make them partisan.”
Climate change is certainly one of those issues, the Congressman states, because the discussion has become more emotional than science- and data-driven. But he also notes that if politicians begin speaking about the issue with an eye toward the economic benefits of creating a more diverse energy portfolio, the issue may begin to gain traction among people in both political parties.
“If you bring up climate change and global warming, you’re going to have pretty different views among Democrats and Republicans. However, we have found that if you begin slicing it up into different components [you can achieve some consensus],” he says. “I can be in a room with some liberal folks and talk about the protection of communities and the resilience of ecosystems; it resonates, absolutely. And I can be in rooms with conservative folks talking about how we’ve funded these [climate-related] disasters over and over…and there are all sorts of studies…that have clearly shown how making investments in the front end in resilience or hazard mitigation more than pays for itself in the longer term.”
While Graves expresses his ambivalence toward instituting a national carbon pricing system, he speaks passionately in favor of investing in technological solutions that balance environmental with economic sustainability, including investments in wind, solar, and geothermal. The challenge, he says, is in understanding where the best returns-on-investments will be.
“We’ve got to do a better job now helping decision makers know where and how to most effectively use the tools available to where you get affordable energy, where you get resilience performance, and where you get lower emissions over the long run.”
Congressman Garret Graves also argues that small innovative businesses could play a significant role in helping mitigate the climate crisis in the coming years.
“That is exactly where the problem is going to be solved,” he remarks. “We are going to innovate our way out of this…[because] innovators have the opportunity to come in and disrupt.”
All of this and much more can be seen and heard in our full Conversation here. I hope you will check it out.
Previous episodes in this series – Conversations on Climate Change and Energy Policy – have featured Meghan O’Sullivan’s thoughts on Geopolitics and Upheaval in Oil Markets, Jake Werksman’s assessment of the European Union’s Green New Deal, Rachel Kyte’s examination of “Using the Pandemic Recovery to Spur the Clean Transition,” Joseph Stiglitz’s reflections on “Carbon Pricing, the COVID-19 Pandemic, and Green Economic Recovery,” Joe Aldy describing “Lessons from Experience for Greening an Economic Stimulus,” Jason Bordoff commenting on “Prospects for Energy and Climate Change Policy under the New U.S. Administration,” Ottmar Edenhofer talking about “The Future of European Climate Change Policy,” Nathaniel Keohane reflecting on “The Path Ahead for Climate Change Policy,” Valerie Karplus talking about “The Future of China’s National Carbon Market,” and Laurence Tubiana reflecting on “A European Perspective on COP26.”
Watch for an announcement about our next webinar. You will be able to register in advance for the event on the website of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements.