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Rep. John Curtis On Hopes For The New Conservative Climate Caucus

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

This week, a group of Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives announced they're forming a conservative climate caucus. Normally, the creation of a new caucus in Congress would hardly make news. But this is different because under the leadership of former President Trump, many in the Republican Party have either denied or minimized the impacts of climate change. Representative John Curtis of Utah spearheaded the creation of the new caucus, and he joins us now to tell us more. Congressman, welcome.

JOHN CURTIS: Thank you, Sarah. Great to be with you today.

MCCAMMON: A majority of Americans of both parties support taking steps to address climate change. But that view, as I'm sure you know, is much stronger among Democrats, and many members of your party, the Republican Party, have cast doubt on the urgency of this issue. What is your conservative climate caucus hoping to achieve?

CURTIS: Well, I think the first thing is to kind of debunk that paradigm. What I find is the vast number of Republicans and conservatives care deeply. And you are right, the loud voices have kind of indicated that we don't. And I think what we found from the reception among Republicans of this caucus is that there's a groundswell of people that deeply care about the environment and want to be engaged in a dialogue.

MCCAMMON: Why do you see a need for a specifically conservative climate caucus? I mean, why not simply have a bipartisan group?

CURTIS: Well, that has existed before, and I think the problem with it is, to be frank, Republicans have not been prepared to meet our Democratic colleagues at that table. Too many of us have not spent the time educating ourselves on these issues. And that's - the purpose of this caucus is to prepare Republicans to answer questions in town hall meetings, to have thoughtful answers, to bring important solutions to the table, to be part of the debate.

MCCAMMON: I'm sure you've seen the same polling data that I have. Republicans consistently express much more skepticism about climate science in surveys by Pew and other pollsters than Democrats do. Why do you think that is?

CURTIS: Well, first of all, let me say I think we get too hung up on that issue, you know? The town hall meeting - it's usually a litmus test for somebody to say, hey, do you believe the climate's changing and do you believe man's influencing it? It's a litmus test, and it's not a good litmus test. I think a far better litmus test is - you know, are you concerned about this Earth, and do you want to leave it better than you found it? And I think part of it has been the dialogue.

I'll give you a really interesting comparison. If I walk into a town hall meeting and I say, you know, let's build the wall, chests tighten, the room divides. It becomes very, very, very divisive quickly. And that's because so much is packed into that word the wall as far as an agenda, a social agenda and things like that. And climate's no different. Climate holds that same divisiveness. But if you really sit down and ask people, you know, how they feel about being good stewards over the Earth, you get a very different response.

MCCAMMON: Scientists have been warning for many years now that a lack of sufficient action to curtail emissions could mean that we will start seeing irreversible consequences from global warming sooner than expected. This week, the French news agency AFP reported that an upcoming report from the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will issue a similar warning.

When it comes to policy, what action do you think that you can achieve in Congress that would get at this huge challenge?

CURTIS: Well, I - all of those are incredibly valuable points of data. And I think what's too often missed in this conversation is most of the solutions currently on the table deal with U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. And I think one of the things that I want this caucus to bring forward and put on the table is worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. We're really fooling ourselves. And if you want to talk about science, the science will tell you that if we're wildly successful at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, we will still fail if we're not successful getting countries like China and India to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. And too often, that's been missing from the dialogue. And I think that's one of the things this caucus can bring forward.

MCCAMMON: I think one of the challenges with that, though, is the concern about giving developing countries a chance to develop, a chance to catch up to some of the technology that richer countries have, you know, balancing that desire against the need to reduce some of the kinds of development, frankly, that contribute to global warming. I mean, how do you think about that tension?

CURTIS: So sure, all of that's fair. But let's be honest, if you want to totally cripple U.S. industry and totally undermine U.S. industry and then give a pass to China with their human rights-violating dictator and you're OK with solar panels being produced by the Uyghurs, where genocide is going on, we have a whole far - a far more serious discussion ahead of us. And let me come back to this concept. If you're not willing to talk about the implications of greenhouse gas emissions coming out of China, you're not really serious about reducing global temperatures.

MCCAMMON: One last question. We kind of touched on this, but I want to frame the question a little differently. What is your message to Americans who maybe don't quite know what to make of climate change or aren't sure exactly what they can do about it?

CURTIS: I love that question. I'm glad that's our last question. Let me say this. If you're not quite sure, join us in this conversation about being good stewards of the Earth. Nobody can question whether or not that's a good idea. Nobody can question that less pollution is not better than more pollution - right? - less plastic in the ocean is better than more. And so join us on that level. Come have a healthy debate about how we can all take better care of the Earth.

And as far as individual responsibility, I think it's a huge mistake to just look to government to go solve this. I think every individual bears some responsibility in this. Whether it's carpooling or whether it's changing to LED bulbs or eliminating a vehicle trip per day, we can all play a role in this. And it - and you don't have to answer - you don't have to use this litmus test. All you have to do is say, look, I want to be a better steward. I want to leave this place better for my grandkids than I found it.

MCCAMMON: That was Congressman John Curtis, Republican of Utah. He was talking to us about the Conservative Climate Caucus he leads in Congress. Representative Curtis, thank you so much for your time.

CURTIS: Thank you, Sarah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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