The other day, it was top Republican message-maker Frank Luntz who changed his mind about the evidence for climate change. (Luntz’s strategic spin helped the party keep its head in the sand for years, rebranding “global warming” for the less scary-sounding “climate change.) Speaking before a Senate committee hearing on climate last Thursday, Luntz said that “I’m here before you to say that I was wrong in 2001… That was a lifetime ago.” He added: “I’ve changed.”
Now it’s Louisiana Republican congressman Garret Graves who has been staking out his new position on climate change. With the aid of a PowerPoint presentation, he has been making the rounds of the House to argue that his party had “a chance to take a less obstinate position on climate change, if they were nimble enough to see it,” in the words of an article by Benjamin Wallace-Wells in the July 27, 2019 issue of The New Yorker. “And, just like that, the Republicans chose as their spokesman on climate change a gregarious, outdoorsy young man who likes to say that not only was sea-level rise real, but that he had measured it with his own yardstick.”
To be fair, Graves does speak of areas where he sees common ground with those concerned about the climate crisis; he favors measures to promote adaptation and resilience, for example (but not a carbon tax). Remarkable for someone from a state that has so many oil and gas refineries, Graves also talks of reducing emissions, moving towards renewables, updating the electrical grid, and investing in new technologies such as energy storage—language which, in some ways, sounds remarkably like the Green New Deal.
Environmentalists, however, are wary that all this may be just talk without any real change in substance—“All hat and no cattle,” as they say in next-door Texas. They note that Graves has received twice as many campaign contributions from the oil-and-gas industry as from anywhere else, and that his lifetime approval rating from the League of Conservation Voters was just three percent. Consequently, they suspect there’s just some image-buffing on.
As The New Yorker put it: “In the months since Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections, there have been signs of a shift in their view of the environmental crisis, changes which may turn out to be meaningful, or may prove to be as ephemeral as a branding campaign.”
Or, as Kathy Castor (D-Florida), chair of the House Climate Crisis Committee, said: “I’d love to see more Republicans get on board with climate action, but it’s not enough to change how they talk about this issue. They need to change how they vote.”