While I do not believe that humans are the sole cause of climate change, we are certainly contributing to it greatly. The United States has a moral and political obligation to take action. How my conservative friends can conclude that rising global temperatures are anything but disruptive to nature is beyond belief. Those who argue that we ought to be relieved of our own responsibilities here in America because nations such as India and China are not doing enough to limit their air pollution are being disingenuous. Other countries’ behavior does not excuse us from doing whatever we can to reduce harmful emissions.
As the Republican governor of Pennsylvania from 1995 to 2001, I strongly favored energy production in my state. I continue to support policies that embrace all sources of energy, including natural gas, which has lowered our dependence on coal. I also support nuclear power, the largest around-the-clock provider of carbon-free energy. Yet many of my conservative friends have been reluctant to join me in supporting renewable technologies such as wind and solar. These and other advancements not only address dangerous greenhouse-gas emissions, but also are helping improve our economy with new jobs. Although natural gas and coal are both abundant in Pennsylvania, renewables must be part of the mix.
Read: A brief history of human energy use
I should note here that the Ridge Policy Group, which I lead, lobbies on behalf of the Pennsylvania Conservative Energy Forum (PennCEF), an organization that seeks to build support on the right for wind and solar projects; our firm also has a nuclear-power company as a client. Any reasonable policy will require people across the political spectrum to recognize, first, that climate change is a serious problem and, second, that the United States, with its enormous appetite for energy, must harness all practical carbon-free sources. Convincing policy makers of both points at the same time is the key challenge, and not just in Pennsylvania.
In a recent speech at a PennCEF event, I reminded the audience that the writer Rachel Carson, a Pennsylvania native, is largely attributed with jump-starting the modern environmental movement. The publication of her 1962 best-selling book, Silent Spring, was a watershed moment, raising awareness about the links between pollution and public health. The first-ever Earth Day started just eight years after her book was published.
Read: Your Earth Day guide to saving the world
During my governorship, I looked to Rachel Carson’s legacy as inspiration for policies we put into place that balanced economic growth with environmental stewardship. My fellow conservatives have a hard time recognizing that the two need not be mutually exclusive. When I came into office in 1995, our state’s Department of Environmental Protection was a nightmare—a heavy-handed agency that crushed jobs through regulatory excess. My administration eliminated red tape so that businesses could get necessary permits, but they were held accountable with appropriate oversight. We also implemented the Land Recycling Program, which to this day remains a national model for cleaning up and reusing contaminated parcels, and we won passage of Growing Greener, a $650 million initiative that was Pennsylvania’s largest-ever investment in the environment. That package was proposed by a Republican governor and passed by a Republican-controlled legislature. You’d be hard-pressed to see that happen today.
A wonderful adage says, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” Earth Day, perhaps this year more than ever, reminds us that the air we breathe and the water we drink should never be taken for granted. And our political leaders—from both the left and the right—must take greater ownership on behalf of our children and their children.