By John Hart
Editor’s note: While President Trump didn’t follow the script below, he did, once again, embrace the goal of reducing carbon emissions. The debate also included a lively exchange on fossil fuels. Biden’s commitment to being “oil-free” is unrealistic and dangerous. The fossil fuel industry has to be a part of the solution if we want to transition to clean energy.
In the final presidential debate President Trump has an opportunity to hit reset not just on the presidential race but on an announced topic that will be a subject of debates for decades: climate change.
Even if I worked for this president, I would be under no illusion he would follow my advice. But having spent a fair amount of time conducting debate prep for candidates and policymakers I would suggest this framework as a starting point.
1. Acknowledge that climate change is real and that humans are contributing to the planet’s warming.
2. Emphasize that the conservative response to the left’s unscientific and anti-intellectual climate alarmism is urgency. Conservatives are prepared to act quickly and constructively. The left is delaying action and taking a self-indulgent detour by engaging in alarmist one-upmanship and linking climate change to unrelated ideological goals like Medicare for All. It’s practical solutions versus hysterical hyperbole.
3. Don’t be defensive. Play offense, be a happy warrior and seize the high ground on both science and policy.
Historically, climate change has not been a topic Republican or conservative candidates were eager to address. The default mode was punt or pivot. It wasn’t “our issue,” the thinking went. Yet, if the GOP wants to be a party that can win national elections and be capable of preserving not just the planet but the future of capitalism and the free enterprise system, that approach won’t work anymore.
Instead of punting, the GOP should press its advantage. To use Trumpian language, it should aspire to win and grow weary of winning. By 2022, this attitude can and should be the norm.
On point one, conservatives have nothing to lose and everything to gain by plainly stating that human activity is contributing to global warming. This justification can come from science, markets, realpolitik realism or all three.
The science does show that the planet is warming. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998, and 9 of the 10 have occurred since 2005.” Read more in our paper with The Conservation Coalition here.
If that isn’t convincing, then look to the markets. The assumption that humans are contributing to global warming is already affecting the flow of capital. Markets have already decided humans are contributing to global warming and businesses are modifying their behavior accordingly. Aside: this is one of the best arguments against heavy-handed, top-down regulation.
If you’re still wavering, then listen to the electorate. A new poll released by the Conservative Energy Network and TCC shows that 82 percent of Independents and 63 percent of Republicans want candidates to acknowledge human-caused climate change. Here’s the realpolitik choice: Conservatives can work to develop and promote solutions or try to convince those voters they are wrong.
Even though some in the media, and many on the left, like to use the language of religious conversion when it comes anything climate-related this doesn’t require anyone to accept the left’s dogma or become a believer in anything other than common sense.
In fact, acknowledging human-induced climate change should be no more controversial than admitting that urbanization created a problem with sewage. Innovation always brings unintended consequences. The answer is not to depopulate cities but to solve problems with more innovation.
Once you clear the first hurdle (point one is now nearly a litmus test for younger voters) you can tackle points two and three in tandem.
Here’s how I’d script it for Trump (who never follows a script):
No one can predict what Trump will say in a debate. But conservatives need to incorporate in their own language an attitude of optimism supported by real solutions. America, and the world, will be much better off if both sides engage in a spirited debate.