Seat at the Table

Will Oilmen Ride to Climate Rescue?

Washington Republicans may be the Party of No on global warming, but a surprising group is stepping into the fray.



So here’s another marker of where we are: Now it’s Texas oilmen stepping up to talk climate change.

Add James Baker’s name to the roster of Republicans who’ve come out for a carbon tax to address climate change. The former secretary of State and Florida-recount knife-fighter went to the White House on Wednesday to meet with Ivanka (assuming she recovered from getting so hosed by Nordstrom, at least according to what may be her father’s most ignominious, non-presidential tweet yet), Jared the K, and even Mike “Whatever It Is, It’s God’s Will” Pence to try and persuade them that, as Baker told The New York Times, “it’s really important that we Republicans have a seat at the table when people start talking about climate change.”

It’s actually a formidable group that Baker assembled. George P. Shultz, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of State; Hank Paulson, Dubya’s last secretary of the Treasury; and Greg Mankiw and Martin Feldstein, two former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers under Republican presidents. They of course follow the example of fellow Texas oilman Rex Tillerson, our new secretary of State, who also says he backs a carbon tax.

One wonders why the Baker group decided to insert itself into the fray in exactly this way. Let’s explore. First, one supposes it could be because they consider global warming an existential threat to humanity and demand that the United States act. Right. Next.

It’s more likely something like this. They do acknowledge that global warming exists. They may not be in the hugest of hurries, but they do think we should probably do something about it if in a somewhat more market-friendly way than Barack Obama wanted to do it. Indeed part of Baker’s sales job is that if the White House is going to scrap Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which it certainly is, then this is a good free-market substitute.

Meanwhile, if you don’t keep an eye out for such things, this mini-controversy on the topic that unfolded this week may have passed you by. Over the weekend, a former National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) official charged that some data from a 2015 study were improperly vetted. This got picked up instantly by the right-wing Daily Mail in the U.K., and from there seized upon by denialists, including on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, which issued a press release blaring the news that “Former NOAA Scientist Confirms Colleagues Manipulated Science Records.”

Since then, a number of leading climate scientists, including the famous James Hansen of NASA, have stepped forward to dispute the original charge. But that’s how these things go: From a blog post to a right-wing newspaper to a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, before the other side can even tie its shoes.

Meanwhile, we’ve just lived through three consecutive record-hottest years.

I’d love to believe that Baker will be able to influence Trump’s thinking on this one. But it isn’t likely to happen. And even if it were to happen, it wouldn’t matter very much, because climate change is one of a handful of policies that Congress is more likely to run than the White House. That is, even if Ivanka is some kind of secret tree-hugger and manages to turn her father into one, we can be sure that Republicans on the Hill will make sure that any initiative on climate change will go absolutely nowhere. The last I checked there wasn’t a single Republican in the House or Senate who backs a carbon tax. In fact, the House cast a symbolic vote on the matter last June, expressing the sense of the body that a carbon tax would be detrimental to yadda yadda yadda. Every present Republican voted against it.

So let’s note the sad irony that now we can number Texas oilmen among those to the Republican Party’s left. But let’s be clear. If people like Baker want these efforts to have any impact, they’re going to have to do more than write one op-ed and have one White House meeting and be done with it. They’ve got to keep at it.

The active elected officials in their party made a pact with this madman because he’ll let them destroy the welfare state while he destroys whatever it is he ends up destroying. Baker and Republicans like him can, and must, do what they can to break that pact.