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Sell Optimism

Marjorie Taylor Greene’s New Climate Theory Is Absurd. It’s Also Very Smart.

The new Republican strategy on climate change is to admit it’s happening but argue that it’s good, actually. Voters may find that optimism compelling.

Marjorie Taylor Greene holds her arms out while smiling.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene speaks the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit held in Tampa, Florida.

As heat waves, wildfires, floods, water shortages, and droughts ravage the country, Republicans have been forced to abandon climate denial. I recently noted that Republicans had switched from denial to delay—the idea that global warming is happening, it’s just not an urgent problem right now—a stance in which they are joined by many centrist Democrats, especially those funded by the fossil fuel industry. But this position probably can’t be sustained indefinitely, given its obvious inconsistency: If there is a climate crisis, shouldn’t we address it? Far-right Georgia Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, a racist, anti-Semite who is up for reelection this year, is now offering one vision of what the Republican Party may switch to after climate delay, like denial, has outlived its usefulness. Greene argues that climate change exists, but it’s good.

“This Earth warming and carbon is actually healthy for us,” Greene said this summer in an interview with the Right Side Broadcasting Network, arguing that warming is good because people die of cold.

Greens is right that routine cold does kill people in the winter—and that’s terrible. Unfortunately, however, the disruptions caused by climate change are even worse than that. Since Greene gave this interview in June, Pakistan has seen the deadliest floods and monsoons ever, with one-third of the country underwater. Nearly 1,400 people have died, 13,000 are injured, and millions are homeless. And the region suffered deadly heat waves just a few months earlier.

Trying to take down people like Greene through purely legalistic means has, predictably, failed so far. Some organized liberals tried to challenge her reelection bid because of her open sympathies with the January 6, 2021, rioters, but in May a judge ruled that she could stay on the ballot, and later that month she won her primary. It seems we can only fight people like this with a better message.

As stupid as Greene seems to those of us who aren’t inclined to agree with her, “climate change is actually good” is probably the right’s best option—largely because all of us, across the political spectrum, would love to believe it. Greene’s narrative is much more appealing than the left’s climate change story. On a bad day, that story amounts to: Everything is getting worse, and to solve the problem, you must give up everything you enjoy too. No foreign travel, steak, or shopping. Some on the climate left are even arguing that people shouldn’t have pets because of the climate impact. One commentator recently called domestic animals “another form of destructive consumerism.”

The right is, of course, wrong to fantasize that the climate crisis is ushering in a totalitarian state in which Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez takes away your hamburgers. But the rhetorical assault on pleasure, without an optimistic vision of what we gain by addressing the climate crisis, plays into the hands of people like Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Some on the left realized this years ago, which is why they’ve been pushing instead for visions like the Green New Deal, which emphasize what people can gain from policies supporting more sustainable lifestyles. Greene’s new message shows why this kind of approach is important: We must be real about the devastation the climate crisis is causing, but attacking things people enjoy won’t help. Life is hard enough—I’m just not, as an urban animal lover, going to attempt to live without cats! Instead, let’s talk about how much better the future could be, as decarbonizing brings us more of what we all love: more forests, more parks, more gardens, more spectacular wildlife, more free time, a more prosperous shared future.

Greene is expected to win her election, and it’s easy to see why. On the same right-wing podcast, the host referred to the Trump party boats. (If you’ve been lucky enough to miss the trend, jubilant white Americans have been partying on boats festooned with banners supporting the former president since summer 2020, as part of the Trump reelection campaign—and are still going strong in much of the country). Asked why there were no Biden party boats, Greene at first spewed some hateful, ageist nonsense about the president, but then she said something painfully true: Democrats just aren’t about having fun.

Sadly, I get what she means. I was out on Long Island this summer, and it was clear that the people on the party boats with the Trump 2024 banners were having a blast. A lot of Democrats lack this spirit, and that’s a problem. The left needs more party boats and relatedly, a sense that, as Ronald Reagan famously exhorted, “it’s morning in America.” We need to make more space for joy in our understanding of the world, as Marjorie Taylor Greene is doing in her twisted and misleading way.

She’s wrong on the facts: Climate change is real, and the devastation it’s causing is not good. But politics requires stories about how things could keep getting better. We do have such a story. Unlike Marjorie Taylor Greene’s story, ours is true. It goes like this: By addressing the climate crisis, we are making the world better. With every policy step we take away from fossil fuels, we are cleaning up the air and water, creating new clean industries in which humans can thrive, making our cities greener, more beautiful, cooler, and full of life. People will live longer lives, evading heat waves and devastating storms. Indeed, our children could well have a future that is more pregnant with exciting possibility than the world we live in now.

We shouldn’t try to outdo Greene’s callous and mendacious brand of optimism. But in telling the truth about the climate, we will find a more genuinely hopeful narrative.