Truth or Dare with climate change on the presidential campaign trail
By D.R. Tucker
It’s the 2016 primary season, and Americans concerned about climate change will be asked for their vote. How will those candidates respond when asked whether free enterprise can reduce carbon pollution?
Kelsi Wolever, a student at Iowa State University, resolved to find out — and the result is her innovative #dare2ask campaign, in which Wolever puts candidates on the spot at campaign events regarding their views on market-based solutions to climate change.
“I began doing candidate outreach last summer, during a summer internship,” says Wolever. “As I continued in political outreach, I grew more passionate about expressing environmental concerns with the GOP candidates, which led to my connection with [former Congressman Bob Inglis’s organization] RepublicEn,” which advocates free-market carbon-reduction policies.
For the past several months, Wolever has attended campaign events in Iowa, asking Republican presidential aspirants about the free market’s ability toI ramp down emissions. The feedback she has received has been much more positive than one would expect, considering the perception of the GOP as unilaterally hostile to addressing climate change.
“I think [New Jersey] Governor [Chris] Christie and [former Louisiana] Governor [Bobby] Jindal were the most consistent and genuine with their answers, compared to some of the more scripted answers I received. I was most shocked by [former Pennsylvania Senator Rick] Santorum’s response, when he told me that he believed in free enterprise as a solution to solving climate change.”
Granted, not all exchanges have been positive. “If I had to choose one candidate that was the most disappointing,” Wolever observes, “it would have to be [former Arkansas Governor] Mike Huckabee, because he would never directly answer any of my questions. Several of my encounters with him led to his response of diverging from my questions or pretending to have a lack of knowledge on the topic. He would dance around the issue, or completely disregard what I had asked,” an unfortunate development, considering that Huckabee was once quite vocal about the moral need to act on climate change.
Huckabee isn’t the only candidate Wolever has met who has previously discussed the need to implement market-based policies to reduce carbon pollution. “I think the candidates that ‘flip-flop’ are not grounded in their views and are switching sides for a particular crowd,” Wolever observes. “I have noticed that some candidates try to win whichever crowd they’re embraced in for the day, while completely disregarding their original views. I think that it is always great to have a climate change supporter and that eventually they will learn that ‘flip-flopping’ is not to their advantage.”
Two presidential candidates who did not flip-flop on the need for market-based climate action were South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and former New York Governor George Pataki, both of whom recently suspended their campaigns. “Having two strong climate realists leave the GOP race is disappointing,” Wolever notes, “but I am confident that there are GOP candidates still in the race, that do support free enterprise and climate change.”
Wolever has no plans at this point to attend the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, “but if the opportunity [to do so] comes my way, I would definitely consider it.” Of course, the 2012 convention in Tampa featured then-GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s infamous joke about President Obama’s efforts to curb carbon pollution; four years later, Wolever is confident that the partisan divide on climate change is soon coming to an end.
“I have great hope,” she concludes, “that more and more people will be pressing this issue and that we can unite the two parties to come together.”
Wolever’s campaign has been covered by CBS News; here’s hoping that her courageous efforts to move our political system towards strong climate action receives even more attention as the campaign season moves forward. Let’s also hope that the next time every candidate, regardless of party, is asked whether free enterprise can solve climate change, they reply: “Yes!”
D.R. Tucker is a member of CCL’s Blog Team and volunteer in Boston.