Republicans talk climate change at AREDay in Snowmass |

Republicans talk climate change at AREDay in Snowmass

Lauren Glendenning
The Aspen Times
From left, Trammell S. Crow, Rob Sisson and moderator Chip Comins discuss Republican conservatism as it relates to climate change action Monday at the AREDAY Summit in Snowmass.
Lauren Glendenning/The Aspen Times |

A couple of Republicans took the AREDay stage in Snowmass on Monday and said they not only believe in climate change, but they’re committed to solving it.

“Most Republicans in Congress think climate change is real, and that man has something to do with it,” said speaker Rob Sisson, a Republican and president of ConservAmerica, a conservative green lobbying organization. “If they speak out, they stand to get toasted in the next primary election.”

Chip Comins of the American Renewable Energy Institute moderated the conversation, “Putting Conservation Back in the Conservative,” one of many discussions scheduled this week for AREDay, the American Renewable Energy Day Summit in Snowmass this week. Texas Earth Day founder and Dallas real estate developer Trammell S. Crow, also a Republican, joined Sisson for the discussion and added that Republican candidates are starting to address the issue more. He said “a number of them” are privately admitting they know the facts about climate change, but appealing to their electorate is another story.

Early Day Texas is reportedly the largest Earth Day event in the world. Crow said it brings together business and environmentalism, which helps make climate change more acceptable for conservative Republicans.

Religious conservatism is what’s holding back political conservatives from getting on board with combating climate change, or for some, even admitting it’s a real thing, Sisson said.

He said many religious conservatives think it takes an enormous ego to believe man can impact climate change — that man could impact what God created.

Sisson said ConservAmerica is working hard this election cycle to identify candidates who can carry the green message. The organization also is working hard to educate other candidates.

“I am extremely optimistic,” Sisson said. “I am Catholic, and I am just thrilled to death about Pope Francis and what he’s doing and his visit in September.”

The AREDay program prominently features the following quote by Pope Francis:

“The idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology … is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry at every limit.”

Sisson’s comments set the stage for a later speech by former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, a Catholic Democrat who traveled to the Vatican to meet with the pope’s policy team to work on the Papal Encyclical.

The 184-page Encyclical released earlier this year focuses on everything from politics to economics to global environmental concerns, including climate change.

“I think it has scared a lot of people in the conservative realm, who have opposed any type of action on climate, because of the moral authority from which the Pope speaks,” Sisson said.

The messenger is just as important as the message, he said, adding that his organization can talk to a conservative policymaker about climate change and it’ll be received a lot more favorably than if the message comes from someone on the other side of the aisle.

Enter Ritter, following the Republican discussion, a Democrat pro-lifer who served one term as Colorado governor from 2007 to 2011 (he did not seek re-election).

Ritter, the founding director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, was the only American at the table in the Vatican working as an advisor of sorts to the pope’s policy team. He spoke to the audience about the meaning behind the document and why it’s making history.

“Encyclical is Latin for circle, meaning to circulate. … This is the first encyclical in the history of the church that was written about the environment or touched on it in a serious way,” Ritter said. “This is the first ever not written to brief priests and bishops — it’s written to all human kind.”

Ritter noted that this encyclical, Francis’ second, is less about church doctrine than almost any other encyclical ever written.

“This pope thinks about and believes in our role in humanity as stewards,” Ritter said, adding that Francis refers to Earth as “our common home.”

Francis is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress next month, followed by a stop at the United Nations in New York. Ritter talked about the challenges in speaking to conservative Congress members about some of the Encyclical’s environmental and ecological points.

“Where it will have to be difficult for members of Congress to listen to him if he’s able to sort of go into this in great detail, is when he begins to link the ecological situation in the natural world and human inequality together with our own patterns of consumption and production in the developed world,” Ritter said. “And he makes a real case for this.”

When asked about the curious timing of its release, Ritter said it seems clear it was linked to the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris later this year, as well as the U.N.’s sustainable-development goals. Ritter said whether you agree with any, none of all of what’s in the pope’s encyclical, he calls it a “great read.”

“It’s been a long time since I sat down and read a document where I understood what I was reading was a different world view than the current world view that we inhabit and the current world view that we utilize to navigate through day to day, whether it’s about the environment, ecology or about just social condition, politics and economies.”