Climate Change Real Issue for Republican Mayor if Not House

Photograph by Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Bus tries to cross the Professor Eurico Rabelo street in front the Maracana stadium after heavy rains flooded the area on Dec. 11, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Torrential rains caused chaos in one of the host cities of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil.

On the day the Republican-led Congress held a hearing to cast doubt on the connections between freak storms and climate change, a Republican mayor from Indiana sat down for lunch in Washington and offered a quite different assessment.

“Everybody sees the severity of the weather events, and I think that’s what’s going to end the debate” about whether climate change is for real, said James Brainard, mayor of Carmel, Indiana. “This is an important issue for Republicans to take leadership on.”

Brainard is one of only four Republicans on President Barack Obama’s 26-member climate task force, and he argues that Republicans need to embrace ways to combat global warming, not deny it.

In his city, a suburb of Indianapolis, Brainard has pushed for a central business district that is convenient to walk to — and around. The city installed 80 roundabouts, which cut fuel use — and the carbon emissions that result. And it has installed an energy-free system to turn its sewage waste into fertilizer, cutting costs and methane emissions in one go.

Next week he’s hosting scientists, local business leaders, Sierra Club activists and government officials at an event about climate change, and how to answer the threat.

Addressing environmental problems is a position that Brainard says puts him in the mainstream of the history of the Republican Party.

“It’s basic government. It’s public welfare and safety,” Brainard said, as a he scrolled through an iPad presentation of his city over a lunch of salads and beef sandwiches near the White House.

President Theodore Roosevelt championed the new national park system; President Richard Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency and related health protections. Presidential candidate John McCain had a federal climate plan in his 2008 platform.

“It’s only since Al Gore took ownership of the issue thatRepublicans turned against it,” he said.

The issue now divides Republican voters. While Tea Party Republicans don’t accept the scientific consensus of man-made global warming, non-Tea Party Republicans are largely in line with all voters on the issue. Among those Republicans, 61 percent say there is solid evidence the Earth is warming, compared with 67 percent of all Americans, according to a Pew Research Center poll in October. Among Tea Party sympathizers, 25 percent agree.

The issue of how global warming is affecting the number and severity of hurricanes, rainstorms, tornadoes or droughts is a more divisive one for scientists.

While many scientists say climate change is making storms more intense, and the impact of rising seas is making the impacts worse, others disagree.

Those disagreements were on display today, in a hearing of the House Science Committee, which is led by Texas Republican Lamar Smith.

“I hope this hearing will make clear that the impact of climate change is often exaggerated,” Smith said in a statement at start the hearing.

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