Dem 51
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GOP 49
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House Republicans Want to Plant a Lot of Trees

As we have written several times in the past month or so, it's getting very hard to ignore the effects of climate change, from the sweltering summer heat to wildfires to extreme weather events in the Southeast to the changing color of the oceans (because in warmer water, more algae grows). It would seem that even House Republicans have joined the rest of us in the real world, at least on this particular subject. Although the Party is not known for having much in the way of policy ideas these days, Kevin McCarthy just unveiled his conference's plan to save the planet: plant a bunch of trees.

This is, if we may say so, a very Republican sort of plan. By that, we mean it is exceedingly simple, at least on paper. It can easily be conveyed in a sound bite, or maybe on a bumper sticker. It is also exceedingly capitalistic. That is to say, someone would make money planting those trees. And someone else would make money harvesting them for lumber, at some point down the road. Meanwhile, the petroleum companies that fund much of the GOP would not have to curtail production of fossil fuels, since the trees would suck up all that extra carbon dioxide.

The plan is also similar to many other Republican policy ideas (e.g., the border wall, arming all teachers, a flat tax) in another way: It's completely unrealistic. The number of trees that McCarthy wants to plant? How about 1 trillion? Yes, that is "trillion" with a "t." Exactly where the money for all those seedlings and all that planting is going to come from is unclear. Further, even if the federal government (potentially aided by other governments and by private industry) was able to plant 10 new trees every second, do you know how long it would take to get to 1 trillion? A little over 3,100 years. And do you know how much land it would require? How about as many square miles as make up the entire continental United States? And this is before we get into the impact on water supply, on local ecosystems, on migratory patterns, etc. Oh, and if you thought the wildfires were bad now, wait until they have 1,000 times more fuel to work with. You could end up with the entire state of Montana on fire.

There is a glass-is-half-full and a glass-is-half-empty interpretation here, and we don't know which one is correct. Starting with the former, this could be a sign that even the Republican Party—the only major political faction in the world that has global warming denial as a policy plank, by the way—is waking up, and has decided that either the good of the planet and/or their own political fortunes demand a change in approach. If so, then planting trees is a good thing, within reason, and could be part of a negotiated approach that includes preferred approaches from both parties.

The glass-is-half-empty interpretation, meanwhile, is that McCarthy and his fellows are still in the thrall of Big Oil, and want to expand fossil fuel production, planet be damned. However, they need at least some political cover given all the extreme weather, and so they've come up with a "solution" that sounds good in theory, but that will never be put into practice. "Hey, we tried to give the tree huggers what they want, namely lots more trees to hug," they might say.

Readers can decide for themselves which is more plausible. What both interpretations have in common, however, is that global-warming denial is becoming politically unfeasible. And when that's the case, change is going to come, whether the Republicans want it (and they might!) or don't. (Z)

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