President Donald Trump and his congressional majority say they do not count climate change as a national threat, and indeed many of them won’t concede that it’s caused by human activity.
But climate renegades have emerged within Republican ranks and they’re accusing their GOP colleagues of being in dangerous denial.
“We can’t deal in alternative facts, or alternative realities,” said Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina. “We have to deal with whatever there’s consensus about as a starting point in legitimate debates that do exist.”
Thirteen of the House of Representatives’ 237 Republicans are part of the Climate Solutions Caucus. Among them, Florida Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen represent south Florida, where rising sea levels pose a grave threat to coastal communities.
“We’re already seeing the effects of rising sea levels,” Curbelo said. “These are very real concerns.”
The bipartisan caucus, which also has 13 Democrats, was established last year to promote economically viable options to reducing the risks from climate change. Though it hasn’t proposed specific legislation, it has brought some influential voices to the cause.
“For a long time now, the Republican Party has dismissed this issue,” Sanford said, “even though the scientific consensus has been clear.”
Sanford says climate change threatens his coastal district, and he supports efforts to move from carbon-based fuels to clean energy.
“This is not an academic issue for many people along the coast of the United States of America,” Sanford said. “I represent the Low Country of South Carolina, and they call it the Low Country for a reason.”
A national climate assessment in 2014 found that coastal South Carolina and south Florida were among the highest-risk areas.
“Large numbers of Southeastern cities, roads, railways, ports, airports, oil and gas facilities, and water supplies are vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise,” the report said.
The impacts are already noticeable in their districts, the Republican lawmakers said.
“We’ve seen firsthand how streets keep flooding from king tides,” Ros-Lehtinen said, referring to the highest predicted tide of the year in a coastal location.
Sanford, a former South Carolina governor, said areas he remembered with pine trees growing up were now salt marshes.
“You talk to old-timers, and they say it’s changing,” he said. “They’re watching that change as the sea level is elevated.”
The House Republicans expressed confidence that they could persuade their reluctant colleagues, and a reluctant White House, to pay more attention to the issue.
It may be a tough sell. A Pew Research survey last year found that only 27 percent of conservative Republicans agreed that international treaties to limit carbon emissions would work to curb global warming, versus 71 percent of liberal Democrats.
President Donald Trump has called climate change a hoax. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has said that carbon dioxide is not a primary contributor to global warming. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has expressed skepticism of the scientific consensus on climate change.
Trump campaigned on removing regulatory barriers to fossil fuel production. He promised to build oil pipelines and to put coal miners back to work. He tapped officials for his Cabinet who have long-standing ties to the oil and natural gas industry.
He also vowed to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a 2015 international pact to limit carbon emissions. Curbelo has urged the White House to remain committed to the accord.
Curbelo and three House Democrats wrote Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this month that “our country should not lose its seat at the table” in a market-driven shift away from fossil fuels that was already happening.
“Whether or not the United States stays in the Paris Agreement,” they wrote, “major international investments will be made in clean energy, energy efficiency and climate resilience.”