Should addressing climate change be a policy priority, even at the expense of the economy?
It’s a question Democrats and Republicans are widely split on, according to a new poll by NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist.
The survey of 1,285 adults found that 72% of Republicans said the economy should be given priority, even at the risk of ignoring climate change — an increase of 13 points since 2018. However, 80% of Democrats polled said that addressing climate change should be given priority, even at the risk of slowing the nation’s economy.
Such a polling question creates an either/or scenario. Here in the energy state of Wyoming, Republicans and Democrats don’t really see it that way.
“I don’t think it has to be one or the other,” Joe Barbuto, chair of the Wyoming Democratic Party, told Cowboy State Daily.
Barbuto said Wyoming can create good-paying jobs with new industries that are coming out of what he calls a “just transition.”
Barbuto explained that this means leaders here in Wyoming need to accept that change is happening and can’t be stopped. Then, by making sure people in Wyoming have well-paying jobs that allow them to raise their families and have a good quality of life, addressing climate change doesn’t need to slow the economy.
“So, their focus needs to be on also helping provide that just transition,” Barbuto said.
Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, told Cowboy State Daily that he rejects the premise of the question altogether. He said both sides tend to push for absolutes as an either/or proposition, which leads to a sort of gridlock where nothing gets done.
He suggests a more measured transition, where we reduce the number of oil leases at a rate of 10% a year, just for an example, and then measure the effects on the economy and carbon dioxide emissions.
“What was the net result? Was it negative? Was it positive?” Gierau said.
Rapidly eliminating the extractive industries cripples Wyoming’s economy, which isn’t necessary, he said.
Gireau said he does believe that carbon dioxide has an impact on the climate.
“I don’t disagree with their position. I just disagree with the way they’re doing it,” Gierau said.
The other side of this is that people view any effort to reduce emissions or support for green energy as an attack on fossil fuels.
“It's not about winning. It should be about doing what's best for everybody,” he said.
Rep. Ken Clouston, R-Gillette, told Cowboy State Daily that Wyoming and the United States have to address both climate change and the economy.
“But I don’t want to sacrifice our economy and security for the climate change agenda,” Clouston said.
Clouston said the environment is important, but it’s not the only consideration. By moving away from reliable sources of energy – coal and natural gas – we’re threatening the reliability of our electricity grid. Should we have a serious cold spell or heat wave, we could face blackouts, leaving people vulnerable and without services.
“We’re going to have an electrical grid disaster,” he said. “We need to and have a responsibility to protect people.”
Clouston said there is a need to move toward renewables, but in a responsible way.
Clouston said that China and India are rapidly increasing their use of coal-fired power, which will ultimately offset any gains in emission reductions made by shutting down U.S. coal-fired power plants.
“I applaud the U.S. and Europe trying to look out for our environment, but we’re sacrificing our economy, while China and India use more reliable and cheaper sources of energy,” he said.
Good Economy, Good Environment
Rep. Tom Walters, R-Casper, told Cowboy State Daily that you can’t afford to protect the environment with a weak economy.
The U.S. hasn’t had an increase in carbon dioxide emissions since 2007. In that time, the U.S. gross domestic product increased 20%.
The ability to control pollution and have a clean environment requires economic development, he said. Without those resources, the investments need to have clean air and water can't be made.
“We’re a small contributor to climate change, if it’s human-caused at all,” Walters said. “So, we absolutely have to focus on the economy.”
He said that restricting fossil fuels results in higher gasoline prices, which upsets both Republican and Democratic voters. Ultimately, economics are going to matter to everyone.
“We love our amenities: our microwaves, our air conditioners, our heaters in the wintertime, our electric ranges, our hair dryers, our five TVs — you name it,” Walters said. “We are spoiled Americans, we love all of those things, and they require energy.”