President Obama has again asked the US Congress to agree a budget which cuts the more than $40 billion in tax breaks for oil, gas and coal producers over the next decade, and spend 25% more on energy conservation and renewable energy. Obama tried the subsidy-cutting approach in his 2011 budget proposals. However, Republicans rejected the idea, arguing that producers would simply move operations overseas (see Bloomberg: Obama Budget Would Cut $40 Billion in Fossil-Fuel Credits).
The president’s budget proposals are sensible, and should be passed by Congress. But they won’t be. In a presidential election year, the party not in control of the Whitehouse almost always blocks what the president tries to do. And climate change is a highly party political issue in the US. Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu try to take action to reduce emissions. Other leading Democrats like Al Gore argue strongly for the low-carbon energy transformation. But leading Republicans vehemently denounce what they call the “hoax” or “theory” of human-induced global warming. And the level of condemnation of climate action has become a badge of honour in the race to be Republican presidential candidate. Rick Santorum, who is today billed as the front runner (though may not be tomorrow) boasts that he was the first of the candidates the reject the hoax (see Huffington post: Santorum’s Stance on Climate Change: Not Very Christian). Mitt Romney, who as Governor of Massachusetts in 2005 made it the first state in 2005 to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, now says that we don’t know if climate change is human-induced, so opposes spending money on clean energy (see Christian Post: Romney’s Shifting Position on Global Climate Change).
This left-right divide is unnecessary. There is nothing intrinsically left-wing about concern for the climate. Worship of the free market is inconsistent with climate concern – the market needs to be regulated to reduce pollution. But there are plenty of right-of-centre politicians and thinkers who accept the need for government intervention in the market. Senator John McCain, the Republican candidate in 2008, was the author of several attempts to create a US cap-and-trade system (though he then opposed the Obama cap-and-trade proposals on the grounds that they would auction permits rather than give them out for free). And at the time when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was created 1988, the US President was Ronald Reagan – not a notable left-winger.
The UK prime minister was Margaret Thatcher, who was at the time giving strong speeches on the need for climate action (though subsequently became a climate ‘sceptic’). In the UK, as in other European countries, there is less of a left-right split on climate. The UK Conservatives have strong policies on climate – though they prefer to talk about energy security to avoid provoking UK climate ‘sceptics’. Labour has similar policies under Ed Miliband, the former Energy and Climate Secretary. And the Liberal Democrats share the same approach (though many Lib Dems still oppose nuclear power).