Why Do Republicans Deny Climate Change?
"I ask the chair, you know what this is?” Republican Senator Jim Inhofe was holding a white sphere aloft for all to see. “It’s a … snowball,” he proclaimed. Then he tossed it to the sitting president.
Since this display on the Senate floor last winter, much laughter has erupted at Inhofe’s expense. His position – that the mere existence of snow disproves global warming - is obviously absurd. It makes a mockery of climatology, and science in general. But the spooky part is - many Americans align with Inhofe and his GOP brethren on this topic. This is blind partisanship at it’s very worst.
Republicans are the only political party in the world still rejecting climate change. Given the scientific consensus on this topic, this is analogous to a confident denial of Apollo 11’s lunar landing.
But the consequences of ignoring climate change are far more sinister than crackpot conspiracies involving Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Barring radical cuts in global emissions, we’re looking at submerged island nations and record droughts in just a few decades. And the damage has already begun to accrue. In Bangladesh, for instance, rising sea levels have forced millions to overwhelm the congested capital city of Dhaka. These examples merely hint at the breadth of the problem.
Much of the world by now has gotten religion on this issue. In Paris last December, nearly 200 nations signed an accord to reverse rampant global warming. The existence of a climate crisis was taken as evident. And yet here in the United States, Republicans continue to obfuscate this basic point.
“Anyone who follows U.S. political debates on the environment knows that Republican politicians overwhelmingly oppose any action to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, and that the great majority reject the scientific consensus on climate change,” writes economist Paul Krugman. “Last year PolitiFact could find only eight Republicans in Congress, out of 278 in the caucus, who had made on-the-record comments accepting the reality of man-made global warming.”
This means, at the time of the survey, there were 270 elected imbeciles rejecting man-made climate change. That's about half of Congress. So why would Republicans want to deny a problem that affects all life on Earth?
In a word: partisanship. “It’s clear from the language the Republican Party leaders use that they view climate change not as a scientific or critical risk management issue, but rather as a Democrat issue,” writes Dana Nuccitelli of The Guardian. “Thus, Republican leaders simply can’t accept the need to address climate change, because that would put them on the same side of an issue as Democrats.”
The science doesn’t matter. For Republicans, this is all about winning a debate that’s un-winnable.
Yet for all their spurning of climate science, GOP members purport to be on the side of reason. They flaunt an impressive pile of “research” to bolster their claims. Where, exactly, are these specious stats coming from?
They come, in large part, from the fossil fuel cartel. Exxon, in fact, has been hiding climate change since 1978, when their own researchers discovered that man-made emissions could raise temps by 2-3° C this century. Admitting to a warming problem, however, would have hurt profits.
And today, those with the most to lose from environmental regulations continue to grease the Republican denial machine. Juggernauts like Exxon and the Koch Brothers fund think tanks like the Heartland Institute, an ultra right-wing shill that once lobbied for the tobacco industry. Now Heartland has set its sights on climate denial.
Roy Spencer - frequent speaker at Heartland conferences and poster boy for Republican denial - is one of a lonely handful of scientists that reject man-made climate change. “If we don’t know how much of recent warming is natural,” asks Spencer on his blog, “then how can we know how much is manmade?”
In fact, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has already answered this question. From their 2013 report:
Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes […] It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.
It’s real. And it’s because of us. With a bit of luck, there may be time to throw the brakes on this runaway train. It’s hard to do so, however, with half the electorate pouring cement on the levers we need to pull.
The Republican denial machine –fired by partisanship and fossil fuels - is a formidable force for ignorance. But it’s time people stopped listening to politicians like Inhofe. On climate change – perhaps the most consequential issue of our time – one party is throwing snowballs while the other is trying to save the planet. In this critical election year, I hope we can vote for the grown ups.