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Earth to Cruz: More O’Rourkes in the wings

November 25, 2018

Following the closest U.S. Senate race in Texas in four decades, we still heard triumphalism from establishment conservatives such as Karl Rove, who spun Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2.6 point victory as a resounding rejection of Democrat challenger Beto O’Rourke’s radical leftism. What the Texas race shows, if anything, is that establishment Republicans can no longer afford to fool themselves like this.

The fact is, more than 48 percent of Texans bought what O’Rourke was selling — from his views on anthem protests, to his “F” rating from the NRA, to his bold climate rhetoric. These clearly weren’t all political land mines. In fact, many young conservatives now back O’Rourke on policy and perhaps on a surprising issue: climate change.

As a steady flood of rigorous research — including most recently from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — has underscored, climate change is a threat of potentially biblical proportions. Its effects threaten the building blocks of civilization and, with it, the American way of life. While the precise effects remain uncertain, the spectrum of potential outcomes are too daunting for any risk-averse conservative to accept. In the words of former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, who served President George W. Bush, doing nothing on climate would be “radical risk-taking” — definitely not what conservatism means to me.

As a young conservative, I am not alone in caring about these risks. Across the country, young conservatives are stepping forward in unprecedented numbers to voice their concern and advocate for concrete solutions. From the American Conservation Coalition, which recently united 30 College Republican State Federation chairs in support of clean energy, to Students for Carbon Dividends, which has organized an unprecedented coalition of college Republican groups around the free-market Baker-Shultz Plan, young conservatives are increasingly breaking rank with the GOP leadership to call for concrete action.

This generational rift within the Republican Party on climate is borne out by the data. Polling by Young Conservatives for Energy Reform reveals that nearly three-quarters of young conservatives support addressing climate change. Moreover, the free-market Baker-Shultz Plan — which is authored by Republican luminaries and backed by an impressively broad coalition — enjoys 4-1 support among millennials, including Republicans. O’Rourke is living proof that Texas is no longer insulated from these national trends.

While Cruz doubled down on conspiratorial mush, Beto offered a commonsense approach to clean energy that appeals to me and my circle of conservative friends. He wisely skipped the liberal fearmongering and penetrated to the heart of the matter: Climate change presents a genuine challenge, but also an opportunity for the Lone Star State to benefit economically from solving it.

As O’Rourke pointed out in January, there are “more clean energy jobs in this state than there are carbon energy jobs.”

During the final debate, O’Rourke emphasized that Texas is the nation’s leader in developing wind energy, which is bringing jobs, clean power and economic opportunity to the state. By focusing on the business case for environmental action, O’Rourke had his fingers on the pulse of economic and entrepreneurial opportunity. Students like me will be looking for jobs in growing business sectors, and we want Texas to be a leader in attracting and developing the industries of the future.

O’Rourke’s willingness to wade into the rising waters of the climate issue is not only good economics — it was also good politics. According to recent data from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, Texans of all ages are now just as likely as the average American to acknowledge the climate threat, a contrast to the bordering states of Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma, which still sit well below the 70 percent national average. The majority of Texans agree with O’Rourke on climate, and the consensus is only growing.

Despite O’Rourke’s narrow defeat, the changing politics around climate — particularly along generational lines — should send a wake-up call to Republicans like Ted Cruz. As climate-related weather patterns worsen for both Texas’ arid north and often-flooded south, our state can either bury its head in the sand or invest in the future. Texans clearly prefer the latter, and that’s exactly what Beto stands for. If the Republican party continues to forgo the mantle of leadership, it will be to their political — and our planetary — peril.

Ryan Haygood is a Tyler resident who attends Yale University, studying ethics, politics and economics.

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