SALT LAKE CITY — The issue of climate change shouldn’t be a boogeyman that makes members of the GOP hide under the bed and be unwilling to have a discussion, but it also shouldn’t be wielded like a club by the Democrats so conversations are impossible.

That message was delivered by Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, during the Sutherland Institute’s 2020 Congressional Series, in which he said being a good steward of the Earth is a common goal shared by everyone, despite the bickering over the “science” behind climate change.

“Can we all agree that less pollution is better than more, less carbon in the air is better, less plastic in the ocean is better?” he said. “Do you want to leave the Earth better than you found it? I believe you do.”

But too often, he said, the Democrats and environmental activists use the tactics of shame and fear to try to politically bury anyone who disagrees with them over the science of climate change and shut down any productive debate.

“I have been in D.C. long enough to know everything is a crisis ... when everything is a crisis, nothing is a crisis. To my good friends on the left, stop. You are not helping,” he said. 

On the flip side, Curtis said the GOP has let political bullying shame them into silence or dismiss worries about a changing climate altogether.

“Why are you afraid of this issue?” he asked. “Are you really content with the label of not caring about the Earth?”

Curtis said he was one of only two GOP members who attended a bipartisan conference on climate change, and his other colleague bowed out early.

“If we don’t take a seat at the table can we really complain about the discussion at the table?” Curtis asked. “As a conservative I regret that we have let ourselves be branded as to not caring about the Earth.” 

Curtis emphasized caring about the climate is not about supporting the Green New Deal — he doesn’t — but the GOP can get savvy about crafting smart solutions to reduce carbon emissions and be a “climate conservative” by embracing innovation and market-based solutions, making choices that embrace conservation in their daily lives, being prepared and adaptable, urging cooperation among global partners and celebrating successes.

“The United States is the global leader in cutting emissions,” he said, which is something people on both sides need to acknowledge.

“We are standing on the sidelines not giving answers. ... The United States produces on a world stage somewhere from 10 to 15% of the entire carbon in the air. We could implement the Green New Deal 100% and it would make no difference to climate change,” he said.

But the GOP shouldn’t run from the issue of climate change because it is critically important to young generations of people, including those in the Republican Party, he said.

“The upcoming generation will not be patient with us. It is a deal breaker for them. They will leave the Republican Party over this,” he said. “I think it is incumbent on us to make this an issue.”