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EDITORIAL: Mr. Gibson stirs up Washington


IN A WORLD WHERE EVERYTHING gets faster all the time for everybody, why not slow down and appreciate the string of exceptionally mild days we’ve had recently? Okay, enough of that.
This may be the warmest September in the Northeast on record–weeks of mostly clear, sunny, shirtsleeve weather. The jet stream winds that affect so much of our weather are stuck. Something like that happened last winter, when arctic air hung out over us here long after we should have had a thaw.

But what happens if being “stuck” doesn’t produce a pleasant interlude or a rare, short-term weather extreme? Ask residents of parched and blazing California.
There’s some evidence that the warming Arctic has skewed the polar wind flow in our neighborhood. This could explain why night after night we see that lazy worm of a jet stream draped across the top of local TV weather maps. Or maybe not. But something’s changed and people have noticed.

It also adds to the interest in an initiative by Congressman Chris Gibson (R-19th). He’s brought together a small group of Republican colleagues in an effort to convince the House of Representatives to acknowledge that climate change is happening now and there are steps government can take to slow, possibly reverse, the damage.

The resolution that Mr. Gibson has proposed has a 350-word preamble enumerating some of the already apparent effects of climate change followed by a 66-word resolution that reads:
Resolved, That the House of Representatives commits to working constructively, using our tradition of American ingenuity, innovation, and exceptionalism, to create and support economically viable, and broadly supported private and public solutions to study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates, including mitigation efforts and efforts to balance human activities that have been found to have an impact.

You wouldn’t call this is a radical manifesto for coping with climate change. That may be its greatest strength. The local chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby has worked long and hard with Mr. Gibson to get this resolution to the point where 10 other members of the Republican majority in the House are willing to co-sponsor the measure. The media have picked up on it, too, because it emerged just before Pope Francis was scheduled to address a joint session of Congress, where he was expected to urge action on climate change.

The pope’s advocacy might help promote Mr. Gibson’s resolution, but the congressman and his colleagues face an uphill battle. Republicans hold a 247-to-188 majority over House Democrats. To assemble a majority in favor of the resolution Mr. Gibson needs 218 votes. Right now he has 11 from his party, so even if all 188 Democrats supported him, the resolution would fail. He still would need at least 19 members of his own party to vote yes on the resolution. You’d think there would be at least that many rational members of  Congress left, but there’s no indication yet that additional GOP lawmakers are willing to confront reality.

Mr. Gibson is not seeking reelection, although he has said he would be interested in running for an unspecified statewide office. That’s led to speculation that this resolution, even if it’s unsuccessful, will help him burnish his image with a voters statewide, who generally elect candidates with views more liberal than his. But that ignores the change in his thinking since he first ran for Congress in 2010. In that first race he discounted the impact human activity has on our climate. Now he knows what’s at stake and is leading the response on his side of the aisle.

Even if the resolution were to pass, it’s not a law; it doesn’t require government to take action or spend a penny of tax revenues addressing the threats of climate change. But it does reveal how disconnected the majority of House members are from the dangers posed by a changing climate.

You’d think they would have rushed to embrace this proposal as a politically painless first step in preparing the public for the challenges we know are coming let alone ones we can’t yet imagine.
Perhaps Mr. Gibson and his colleagues will gather enough Republican votes to adopt this worthy resolution. But a backlash from House GOP leaders is another possible outcome. The resolution threatens to expose a split in the party that its leadership can’t gloss over or ignore. It reminds constituents in all 435 congressional districts that science hasn’t failed the nation, the House leadership has.

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