Military, Business, and Faith Leaders Highlight Conservative Cases for Climate Action

Jan 16, 2017

Over the past several years, climate change has gained a reputation as a liberal agenda item. It wasn't always that way; it was President George H. W. Bush who brought the U.S. into international climate negotiations in 1992. Today, many GOP legislators reject the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change. But that science is clear – human activities are disrupting the global climate system, and that poses risks to people and institutions of all political persuasions. What’s more, conservative core values can be used to argue for climate action just as strongly as progressive ones.

Since Donald Trump was elected president, efforts to highlight conservative arguments for climate change have ramped up. Just what are those arguments? Military and business leaders are finding climate-related risks throughout their operations. On the positive side, there are the jobs and economic growth offered by clean energy are key. And last, but certainly not least, there are faith-based moral arguments for addressing environmental degradation of many types. Those working in this area have coined a term for this trifecta: military-business-faith (MBF, for short) climate action.

Insurers Face Climate Risks

No business sector is staring climate change in the face more directly than insurers and re-insurers. Risk is the name of the game, and increasingly extreme weather poses ever greater risks. Extreme weather events caused a total of $15 billion in insured losses in the U.S. in 2015, and that was a cheap year. The average has been closer to $30 billion in recent years.

Frank Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of America says his industry needs information to accurately price the risk.

“While the insurance industry is very reliant on scientific information for a significant part of its risk assessment, much of that assessment comes from research funded by the federal government,” he said. “The National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, and NASA all fund research facilities that look at climate.”

Nutter says his industry would be happy for a more refined assessment of risk that looks at what climate change is likely to do in specific communities.

“There’s a whole matrix of interest, private and public, in localizing the public assessment,” he said. 

In The Navy

Coastal homes aren’t the only things threatened by climate change. Extreme weather, rising seas and temperatures, also put American soldiers and military installations at risk. For that matter, military experts say climate change poses a threat to national security. And our armed forces have been working to not only guard against those threats, but also to reduce reliance on the fossil fuels causing the problem.

Rear admiral (retired) David Titley served as a naval officer for 32 years, including as the Oceanographer and Navigator of the Navy. He initiated and led the US Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change. And, since retiring, he has founded and led the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State University, where he is also a professor of meteorology. But Titley didn't always embrace climate change as a military issue.

Then, the Navy asked him to look into the issue, and the overwhelming body of scientific evidence convinced him. When he first looked into climate change he asked scientists if the sun was getting hotter. He learned it was not. 

“Just by taking a blank sheet of paper you can see that the only plausible theory that makes sense, that can be reproduced, that we see time and time again in overwhelming evidence is of man-made climate change.” 

The Moral Imperative

Some who deny the reality of human-caused climate change do so on religious grounds. They argue that the Bible, specifically the book of Genesis, establishes that only God can determine the climate and gives humans dominion over the earth to do as we please. However, most Christian leaders see things differently, saying that the Bible charges humans with stewardship and care for the Earth, the poor, and future generations.

This schism is particularly notable within Evangelical Christianity.

Mitch Hescox is the president of The Evangelical Environmental Network and author of Caring for Creation: The Evangelical's Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment. He argues that taking action on climate change is a pro-life position.

“We believe that what it means to be pro-life is to care for our children from the moment of conception until natural death,” said Hescox. “It’s a whole pro-life ethic looking at the entirety of life. And right now, pollution is killing our children.”

There's a positive message, too, he said. The clean energy economy is a way to grow the country economically. 

"If we really want to make America great again, we need to understand that renewable energy jobs are growing faster than anybody else," he said. "And they're jobs that can't be exported."