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December tornadoes in Michigan. Blizzards in Texas. A 70-degree Christmas along the East Coast. This year’s unusual winter weather will likely be a talking point on climate change for Democrats. Meantime, unless Republicans find a way to talk about climate change that doesn’t make them sound out of touch, GOP presidential candidates will continue to struggle to relate to the average voter on this issue.

Almost every poll shows younger voters believe some degree of climate change is taking place, and that human activity significantly contributes to its severity. A majority of all Americans believe that as well.

That means it’s an issue the Republican Party must get a handle on, particularly if it wants to be the party of the future. Conservative candidates don’t lead the conversation on climate change, largely because they don’t believe there’s anything to discuss. Instead, progressives and their Democratic candidates control the conversation and make everyone else out to sound medieval.

The GOP’s favorite refrain is the science isn’t settled. Ted Cruz even recently held a Congressional hearing called “Data or Dogma: Promoting open inquiry in the debate over the magnitude of human impact on Earth’s climate.”

But the Earth’s climate is changing. So is the weather. And much of the science proves that human activity is having some effect, however small, on the environment. Billions of tons of greenhouse gases have been emitted over the past 100 years into the Earth’s atmosphere that hadn’t been for all of human history.

There is increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Though its rate fluctuated over the past several decades, the concentration in the atmosphere today — 400 parts per million — is higher than any point in the past 800,000 years.

At least five different data sets show long-term warming of the Earth’s surface temperature. Climate change isn’t the most important issue in many people’s minds; only 3 percent of people rank it highest in the latest Gallup poll. But it comes up disproportionately often.

To rebut the self-hating, misplaced and politically motivated solutions proposed by Democrats, the GOP needs better ideas that are less costly and less intrusive, and that empathize with environmental stewardship.

That could include comprehensive energy plans that focus on energy efficiency, reducing waste, and propping up natural gas as the country shifts away from a much dirtier source, coal. Candidates could use the slow in carbon emissions over the last decade to illustrate change in U.S. behavior is already having an impact. Nuclear is also a viable option for clean energy.

Most importantly, the GOP should focus voters on the root of the problem: China and India’s emissions. China contributes almost a quarter of total global emissions, and with India, accounted for 83 percent of the worldwide increase in carbon emissions from 2000 to 2011.

The real challenge is not with U.S. pollution, it’s in finding a way to curb international emissions, which the Paris agreement — like past foreign agreements — failed to do.

GOP candidates don’t need to hug trees or propose new taxes and regulations on the campaign trail to show they take environmental stewardship seriously. But they ought to start talking about it in a way that will resonate with voters today and in the future.

Kaitlyn Buss is an editorial writer at The Detroit News.

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