Many left-leaning people have considered the Republican party’s position on climate change irresponsible and intellectually bankrupt for years, if not decades. But while it’s true that the GOP has been estranged from Teddy Roosevelt’s spirit of transcendental conservation for very long indeed, the 2012 GOP primary has nevertheless revealed an entrenched and intensified opposition to science among the faithful that is truly astounding.
Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have all had to walk-back, to one degree or another, previously sane — but now increasingly heretical — stances on the problem of climate change and the way to address it.
Pawlenty’s gone now, of course, but he made sure to embarrass himself as thoroughly as he could in his vain effort to convince Republican primary voters that his earlier support of cap-and-trade was, well, a severe lapse of judgment; and who among us has not sinned, right? Gingrich, meanwhile, has tried to argue, with usual shameless, chutzpah-tastic aplomb, that an advertisement he cut with Nancy Pelosi in 2008 urging a bi-partisan response to the climate threat was nothing of the kind.
Gingrich now says that when he sat next to then-Speaker of the House Pelosi, the embodiment of all that is heinous and wrongheaded with American liberalism to many in the GOP, he did it not as a show of solidarity, but rather as an attempt to show his cohorts that they “shouldn’t be afraid to debate the left, even on the environment.” Sadly, this act of heroism was “misconstrued”; but in any event, like Pawlenty, Gingrich assured us that this ex-post facto crime was “probably one of those things [he] wouldn’t do again.”
Amidst such craven silliness, Mitt Romney’s refusal to arch himself backwards 180-degrees is quite admirable, really — especially when one remembers that we’re talking about Mitt Romney here. Mitt’s not about to go around out-doomsdaying Al Gore, or making any bold promises about turning back the tides, but neither is he engaging in any flailing acts of self-criticism; and for that he deserves real credit.
Yet, as if to spite Romney by one-upping him when it comes to what would be, in most other contexts, a rather unspectacular show of reasonableness, his rival Mormon Governor, Jon Huntsman, recently made waves by fearlessly tweeting (like countless statesmen and warriors before him) his implacable belief in conventional wisdom:
(Some have wondered, in response to this, whether or not Huntsman is even trying to win in 2012. I’d imagine he is. But I’d also hazard to guess he’d like to lose as the real Last Sane Latter-Day Saint in the race, if he must lost at all.)
This is the context, then, that the Washington Post hopes to explain in a recent piece. Remembering that this is the old guard, traditional, “Sides differ on color of the sky” media, I must say that the authors come remarkably close to calling it like it is, and rendering a judgment of the GOP’s stance today that lies somewhere between the sardonic and the bemused:
Four years ago in New Hampshire, campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, John McCain said to voters, “I do agree with the majority of scientific opinion, that climate change is taking place and it’s a result of human activity, which generates greenhouse gases.” He made global warming a key element of every New Hampshire stump speech.
This week in New Hampshire, the governor of Texas and newest presidential contender, Rick Perry, said scientists have manipulated data to support their “unproven” theory of human-influenced global warming. He said increasing numbers of scientists have disavowed the theory altogether.
This is not simply a case of two very different politicians saying two very different things. The political discussion about global warming has lurched dramatically in four years — even as the scientific consensus has changed little. McCain’s 2007 description remains the scientific consensus: Human activity, including the burning of fossil fuels, is pumping carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and warming the planet.
But that scientific conclusion has become a lively point of debate in the GOP presidential campaign. Joining Perry on the skeptical side, for example, is Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who suggested Wednesday that “manufactured science” underpins what a questioner called the “man-made climate-change myth.”
The piece goes on to do an admirable job acknowledging the places where the theory of climate change is just that (theory); and how the scientific community has, as of late, often hurt its own cause with unfortunate lapses of tact or wanderings into hyperbole. But in the main, these are necessary but somewhat secondary acts of lip-service; these reporters come down in favor of the validity of man-made climate change with a force uncommon in this day and age:
Such missteps revealed that the scientific establishment does not always function like a well-oiled machine and that climate science in the raw is a more contentious enterprise than the average academic news release might suggest. But the errors did not change the basic science behind the theory of anthropogenic, or human-caused, global warming.
That the planet has warmed is a fact hardly anyone disputes — it has been measured with instruments on land and sea and in space. That humans have contributed to the warming through industrial activities is a theory supported by multiple scientific organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and NASA. […]
There are dissenting scientists, but they’re a small minority within the climate-science community. A 2010 study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences surveyed 1,372 climate scientists and found that 97 to 98 percent agreed that humans are contributing to global warming.
Where the Post goes wrong — and where candidates like Perry and Bachmann, in a limited sense, go right — is in understanding why it is that Republican voters, and indeed much of the electorate at-large, have turned so forcefully away from conceding that, yes, the house does seem to be ablaze.
To use an old cliché: it’s the economy, stupid. People, understandably, are going to be rather skeptical of dealing with a problem that has not yet occurred (and may not occur within their lifetime) through means which quite possibly could exacerbate the pain of the catastrophe with us here-and-now.
When I’m flush with cash, I might listen to you when you plea with me to lay down a couple of grand to get that flood insurance you’re always talking about. But once I’ve lost my job, the bills are piling up, and my check account is dwindling down — well, that’s when you being to sound to me like a damn fool.
And you know how they treat fools down in Texas, right? Pretty ugly, that’s how.
(x-posted at Flower & Thistle)