Local View: Conservatives are re-engaging on climate change; moderates should join them

From the column: "Climate change is just one of the urgent issues over which we are fighting unnecessarily."

R.J. Matson / Cagle Cartoons

When I was chief scientist for Strategic Air Command, Director of Intelligence, one of the issues I was an explainer for was nuclear winter. The analysis of nuclear winter required large-scale climate models. Ironically, those same climate models were being used to investigate how global warming was going to change the planet.

Both political parties in the 1980s were in on trying to generate solutions, and the military was in the game because we are the ones who have to respond so often to emergencies on the international stage, climate change-induced migration causing much of the strife we see today.

Now retired, I am an activist and lobbyist working with Congress through the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, or CCL. The aim is educating and supporting congressional members. As a conservative and military veteran, I have a unique story that I share with any member of Congress with whom I share a military background.

Recently, I was in Washington attending the CCL’s Conservative Climate Leadership Conference and once again was able to share my path to becoming an activist with members of Congress and their staffs. It is not surprising to me that a number of my fellow conservative lobbyists have similar military backgrounds and stories of continuing service.

As our nation confronts climate change, which is the political face of global warming, it is more and more important that we learn to work together on solutions upon which we can agree.


Right now, those solutions include doing something to modernize our permitting processes. One estimate suggests that if we don't modernize our permitting processes, we will be unable to achieve most of the goals we have been setting for ourselves.

While I was in Washington with fellow conservatives, permitting modernization sounded quite bipartisan. But upon returning to Minnesota and listening to public radio, I could hear the headlines on the modernization process focused very heavily on just the oil and drilling and not at all on the transmission-line aspects that are so important if we are to be successful in our efforts.

This reminded me once again how our politically defined echo chambers, as energized by our political extremists, keep us from being able to discuss shared solutions in any meaningful way. It is going to take a conscious effort on all our parts to push back against the extremists who would turn everything into do-or-die propositions.

Climate change is just one of the urgent issues over which we are fighting unnecessarily. The move by conservatives back into the business of advocating for more bridge-building climate solutions is evidenced by the development of groups like the Conservative Climate Caucus , headed by Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, with notable support from our own Minnesota Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Hermantown.

The rise of numerous conservative organizations working on climate change — like Students for Carbon Dividends and the American Conservation Coalition — is further evidence of a shift in our politics. Leadership from these young, new conservatives is a clear signal that the monolithic “conservatives are all against climate change solutions” is a convenient myth — and seeking these new voices out can bring a breath of fresh air to our conversations.

With some good support from the moderate middle, we may see a new bipartisan world developing in spite of our activists at the extremes. The more moderate center must get into the game to make this happen.

Bruce W. Morlan of Northfield, Minnesota, is the former chief scientist for Strategic Air Command, Director of Intelligence. He wrote this for the News Tribune.

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Bruce W. Morlan

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