Editorial: GOP congressman may signal thaw in climate debate

“I’m going to tell you something you rarely hear a member of Congress say,” U.S. Rep. David Jolly told a University of South Florida audience recently. “I think the climate’s changing. I think man’s had an impact, and we need to stop arguing about the science.”

What makes this news is that Jolly, of Pinellas County, is a Republican. And it’s practically holy writ within the GOP to say that man-made climate change isn’t real, that the science is inconclusive and that steps to curb greenhouse emissions would scuttle the economy.

But as Jolly, a candidate for his party’s Senate nomination, elaborated to the Tampa Bay Times, he has become frustrated “with those in my own party who insist on fighting over the science instead of fighting over the solutions.”

“I’m sick and tired of going nowhere in addressing large problems,” he said, “and I’d like to see our party accept the science and say we believe in conservative solutions.”

Is this a sign of thaw in the frozen politics of climate change? We should all hope so, because the polarization of this vital issue is putting the long-term health of our state and nation in jeopardy.

Jolly is one of 13 Republicans in Congress who, breaking from party orthodoxy, have co-sponsored a resolution (HR 424) that recognizes the impact of climate change and urges bipartisan action. “If left unaddressed,” the statement reads, “the consequences of a changing climate have the potential to adversely impact all Americans.”

These 13 are the barest minority of the 247 Republicans in the House. But they offer a small hope that our national politics someday might catch up someday with the national mainstream: 70 percent of Americans now believe there is solid evidence of global warming, according to the National Surveys on Energy and the Environment.

Jolly’s co-sponsors include two other GOP representatives from Florida, Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. No surprise, perhaps, that they’re from Miami, which is seeing some of the nation’s earliest effects of rising sea levels. One recent study determined that by 2030, up to $69 billion of Florida coastal property will likely be at risk of inundation at high tide that’s not at risk today.

These Republicans are a lot more clear-headed than their hometown colleague, Sen. Marco Rubio, who as a presidential candidate repeatedly coupled climate change skepticism with claims that slowing global warming “would have a devastating effect on the economy.”

Oh, really? Well, somehow, the sibling company of Florida Power and Light Co. — NextEra Energy Resources LLC — has managed to become North America’s largest producer of renewable wind and solar power while posting a net income last year of $1 billion, or 40 percent of the combined corporation’s profits. Who says a better environment and a healthy bottom line can’t go together?

Like Jolly, we, too, are sick and tired of the stale — and frankly, specious — refusals to recognize the reality of climate change. A few Republicans alone won’t break this dispiriting stalemate. But the bravery of these dissenters points toward a day when we face this challenge not as one faction pitted against the other but as a whole nation.

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