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Allergic to Green: Conservatives and the Climate.

conservatives and climate changeIn a bid for “Most Churlish Political Maneuver of 2013,” six Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works committee have boycotted Obama’s nominee to lead the EPA. Gina McCarthy, Obama's choice, worked under two Republican governors and has a solid, centrist record of administrative achievement. But, of course, that’s not the point. The point is that the only way Obama can affect climate change is to do an end-run around congress by enacting stronger regulations through the EPA. And, if Republicans block his EPA nominee they block his efforts to stop climate change. 

Even more to the point is that the Republican Senators who are trying to block McCarthy’s nomination have each received 1 million (Vitter, Inhofe), a half-million (Barasso, Wicker), or hundreds of thousands (Crapo, Sessions, Boozman) in campaign dollars from oil and gas interests over their Senate careers. First-term Republican Senator Deb Fischer took a measly $95,070 from oil and gas, but she’ll catch up. ( It’s obvious why these Senators take the money -- money wins elections -- but it’s less obvious why their constituents let them. After all, 51% of Republicans now understand that the climate is heating and the boycotting Senators are all from the deep South or the arid west -- regions that will be hit hardest by climate change. I don’t expect a groundswell climate movement to rise up across Ol’ Dixie and cowboy country, but people in these hotter, drier regions are going to suffer the worst from climate change and you’d think they’d want to stop it. They have children too, right? 

Yes, but they also (mostly) have conservative ideologies and research shows that even a whiff of environmental protection gives conservatives the hives. A study out of the Wharton Business School found that conservatives were less likely to buy energy-efficient lightbulbs that promised to save money when the packaging declaimed, “Protect the Environment.” They did, however, choose more efficient bulbs with eco-neutral packaging that promised to save money. Predictably, liberals responded positively to greenie packaging -- and were more likely to burn old sneakers for illumination if told it would “Protect the Environment” (Just kidding, that last part.)

Similarly, economists at UCLA found that when homeowners were given feedback on their home energy usage, conservatives actually increased their energy consumption, while you-know-who reduced theirs. Both the efficient lightbulbs and the home energy usage involve spending money, and money is often the best indicator of what people really believe. Conservatives will actually spend money to avoid doing something green. Authors of the UCLA study speculate that conservatives increased their energy consumption in order to “tweak the authority’s nose.” Facing an ever hotter planet, could conservatives’ mental calculation really be: “Yes, I want to protect the planet for my children’s children, but not if government thinks I should.”? Well, with two teenagers at home and I know what that behavior looks like.

Will the citizens of Nebraska, Idaho, Wyoming, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Alabama give in to their anti-green cussedness and re-elect these Senators who foster climate change? There are always complicating factors, but one thing is certain: if your representative takes money from an oil company s/he will vote to increase climate change. And if you vote for one of those Senators you'll get to explain it to your kids in a decade or two.