Back in 1988, former Rhode Island Congresswoman Claudine Schneider testified on Capitol Hill to push a bill focused on climate change. She served in the House, as Rhode Island's first female member of Congress, from 1981 until 1991 — and she was a Republican.
“In the 1980s, on the Science, Research and Technology Committee, there was bipartisan understanding that climate was a real challenge,” she said.
That begs the question: As many Democrats push for a Green New Deal, how did the GOP become the party of climate change skepticism and, in some cases, denial?
Claudine Schneider, Rhode Island's first female member of Congress, from 1981-1991.
On why the Republican Party has become opposed to taking action on climate change
“Why has the Republican Party shifted? I have one answer for you: Money. They have been bought off by the fossil fuel industry. If it’s a congressman from Virginia, or [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell from Kentucky — where they have the coal or some of the oil and fracking interest — there’s a very clear correlation. There’s a reason there's the phrase “follow the money.” Because if you do, you will see that the voting correlates with those major contributors to the Republican party, and most of them happen to be in the fossil fuel regions of our country.”
On the costs of inaction on climate change
“The reality is, the costs of inaction on climate change are just daunting. Between 1980 and 2018, we’re talking about 238 climate-related disasters totaling $1.5 trillion. So don’t tell me that the remedies are going to be more expensive than that, and that’s not even discussing the loss of life that has occurred. So when you look at risk — and Republicans are ignoring all risks, but at least the Department of Defense is not — they are spending substantial amounts of money so that they will be prepared and they’ve looked at climate change as a national security concern. Not too long ago, the Federal Reserve also came out and they said that the banks need to do climate stress tests … The messengers are substantial. We should not be listening to Republican politicians at this point. Except Gov. [Bill] Weld, who is running against President Trump in the primary, has indicated that he is supportive of action on climate change.”
On whether she has hope for Republican leadership to take climate change action
“I think it is very bleak within the Republican Party. The president chose to say that this is a ‘hoax,’ and his enablers have followed, including the Republican National Committee. So the leadership there is minuscule by comparison, but I think that the other detriment that is currently going on in the political environment is the divisiveness.”
On how voters can track their representatives on the issue
“One of the most important things people can do is to vote with knowledge. If you’re too busy to track your elected officials, which I constantly hear, you can learn the sources of their campaign contributions and follow the money. In addition to that, you can find out how they’re ranked by various professional organizations, whether it’s the Chamber of Commerce or the labor unions or environmental groups or women’s groups.”
This article was originally published on April 25, 2019.
This segment aired on April 25, 2019.