Lindsey Graham: My New "Green" Hero?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Today's New York Times has two must-read op-ed's on climate change and clean energy, one by Al Gore ("We Can’t Wish Away Climate Change" and one by Tom Friedman quoting Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham ("How the G.O.P. Goes Green"). Gore's op-ed is excellent, and I strongly recommend that everyone read it. However, something tells me that the op-ed quoting Lindsey Graham - my new "green" hero? - could be more significant politically. As Tom Friedman writes, "Five more G.O.P. senators like him and we could have a real energy bill." And make no mistake, we desperately need a "real energy bill," ASAP.

Here's why I call Lindsey Graham - not exactly a champion on environmental issues in the past - my new "green" hero. First, Graham understands that environmental protection is something positive that Republicans should "buy into" and "embrace." Second, Graham totally gets it - unlike even some Democrats - that there's no magic techno-fix for our energy and climate problems, but instead that "you will never have energy independence without pricing carbon." Graham elaborates:
The technology doesn’t make sense until you price carbon. Nuclear power is a bet on cleaner air. Wind and solar is a bet on cleaner air. You make those bets assuming that cleaning the air will become more profitable than leaving the air dirty, and the only way it will be so is if the government puts some sticks on the table — not just carrots. The future economy of America and the jobs of the future are going to be tied to cleaning up the air, and in the process of cleaning up the air this country becomes energy independent and our national security is greatly enhanced.
If this sounds just like Tom Friedman writing in "Hot, Flat and Crowded," you're right. In fact, if I didn't know that Lindsey Graham was saying those words, I would have guessed they were coming out of Tom Friedman's mouth. And on this subject, that's a very good thing.

Third, Graham correctly calls out Congress for "political malpractice" on this issue. I couldn't agree more. As Al Gore points out in his op-ed, "When the Senate failed to follow the lead of the House of Representatives, forcing the president to go to Copenhagen without a new law in hand, the Chinese balked. With the two largest polluters refusing to act, the world community was paralyzed." Heckuva job, Senate, thanks a lot!

Fourth, Graham understands that for us to succeed in transforming our energy economy and solving huge challenges like climate change, we need business and the tremendous power of the capitalist, market economy on board. Which is why Graham says that "The Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers need to tell my colleagues it is O.K. to price carbon, if you do it smartly." Who's going to get the Chamber of Commerce et al. on board, Democrats or Republicans? I'd say both, but more the latter than the former. Hence, we desperately need Lindsey Graham and at least a few of his GOP colleagues to hop on board this (preferably high-speed) train.

Fifth, Graham is 100% correct that Republicans can't just be "the party of carbon pollution forever in unlimited amounts" if it wants to have any appeal to young people and not just be the party of "one more short, white Republican over 50," as he puts it.

Finally, Graham gets the larger, long-term picture here, that "We can’t be a nation that always tries and fails," that "We have to eventually get some hard problem right." Well, my fellow citizens, we are now facing an extremely "hard problem" and we are not in the least bit getting it "right." With Republicans like Lindsey Graham on board, however, there's a chance that we might do so. All of which is why (pro-business and not much of an environmentalist in the past) Republican Lindsey Graham, assuming he's willing to put his political muscle where his rhetoric is and get those "five more G.O.P. Senators like him" on board, has the potential to be my new "green" hero.