Over the past four years, the Republican Party has undergone a fairly dramatic shift in its approach to energy and environmental issues. Global warming has disappeared entirely from the party’s list of concerns. Clean energy has become an afterthought. Fossil fuels loom larger than ever. And one way to see this shift clearly is to compare the party’s 2008 and 2012 platforms.
It may seem difficult to believe now, but back in 2008, the Republican Party’s platform (pdf) had a long and detailed section on “Addressing Climate Change Responsibly.” Here’s how it opened:
The same human economic activity that has brought freedom and opportunity to billions has also increased the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. While the scope and longterm consequences of this are the subject of ongoing scientific research, common sense dictates that the United States should take measured and reasonable steps today to reduce any impact on the environment. Those steps, if consistent with our global competitiveness will also be good for our national security, our energy independence, and our economy.
The 2008 platform went on to call for “technology-driven, market-based solutions that will decrease emissions, reduce excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, increase energy efficiency, mitigate the impact of climate change where it occurs, and maximize any ancillary benefits climate change might offer for the economy.”
This language didn’t just come out of nowhere. At the time, a handful of prominent Republican politicians appeared genuinely interested in tackling climate change. Then-Senator John Warner (R-Va.) was co-sponsoring legislation to reduce the country’s greenhouse-gas emissions. On the presidential campaign trail, John McCain was talking up his cap-and-trade program that would put a price on carbon. (McCain, for his part, was one of the earliest members of Congress to endorse this idea.)
The 2008 GOP platform certainly didn’t agree with liberals and environmentalists on everything. Far from it. The document put a heavy emphasis on nuclear power, which tends to cause some green groups to bristle (although many Democrats softened their opposition to atomic energy in the years that followed, in a failed effort to woo conservatives on climate policy). The platform also had harsh words for “doomsday climate change scenarios” and “no-growth radicalism.” Yet the 2008 GOP platform was, essentially, taking part in a debate over how best to tackle greenhouse gases—not about whether the climate was changing at all.
Skip ahead to 2012, and the GOP platform takes a markedly different tone. That section devoted to climate change? Gone. Instead, the platform flatly opposes ”any and all cap and trade legislation” to curtail greenhouse gases. It demands that Congress “take quick action to prohibit the EPA from moving forward with new greenhouse gas regulations.” It criticizes the Obama administration’s National Security Strategy for ”elevat[ing] ‘climate change’ to the level of a ‘severe threat’ equivalent to foreign aggression.” The platform even tosses in what appears to be a subtle swipe at climate scientists:
Moreover, the advance of science and technology advances environmentalism as well. Science allows us to weigh the costs and benefits of a policy so that we can prudently deal with our resources. This is especially important when the causes and long-range effects of a phenomenon are uncertain. We must restore scientific integrity to our public research institutions and remove political incentives from publicly funded research.