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Devastating Takedown of GOP Science Denial in The Atlantic Wire

They’ve entitled it ‘Heads in the Sand,’ though a less polite variant of that phrase is also apropos
Politics • Views: 16,124

This is excellent - so many of the things Charles and other LGF members have been saying for two years, and backed up by boots-on-the-ground investigative journalism: Heads in the Sand.

The entire piece is so good, I had a hard time choosing which sections to excerpt:

But it’s rare to find a Democrat who denies outright the overwhelming scientific consensus that carbon emissions from oil, coal, and gas—also known as greenhouse gases—are causing the world’s climate to warm.

That’s not the case for Republicans. Over the past year, GOP politicians have increasingly questioned or flatly denied the established science of climate change. As the presidential primaries heat up, the leading candidates have either denied the verdict of climate scientists or recanted their former views supporting climate policy. As the tea party grows in influence, and the fossil-fuel industry injects unprecedented levels of spending into the electoral system, challenging climate science has become, in some circles, as much of a conservative litmus test as opposing taxes. Conservatives such as Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who notoriously called climate change a hoax, once were marginalized. Now Inhofe tells National Journal he feels that he’s ‘come in from the cold.’

Despite the rhetoric on the campaign trail, a quiet but significant number of prominent Republican politicians and strategists accept the science of climate change and fear that rejecting it could not only tar the party as ‘antiscience’ but also drive away the independent voters who are key to winning general elections. ‘There’s a pretty good-sized chunk of the Republican caucus that believes that global warming is happening, and it’s caused at least in part by mankind,’ said Mike McKenna, a strategist with close ties to the GOP’s leadership. ‘You can tell these guys are uncomfortable when you start to talk about science.’

As recently as the last presidential election, the debate in Republican circles was far different. John McCain’s 2008 campaign ads promised that as president, he would tackle climate change. Not only that, but McCain was a lead sponsor of the first major Senate cap-and-trade bill in 2003

What changed? Not the scientific evidence. In fact, recent reports from the National Academy of Sciences show that the data and consensus on the principles of climate change are stronger than ever. The reports have concluded that increasing levels of carbon dioxide, produced primarily by burning coal and oil, are trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. A November scientific report by the Nobel Prize-winning United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes those rising temperatures will, over the next century, bring an increase in the frequency and intensity of heat waves, heavy precipitation, hurricanes, droughts, floods, and rising sea levels.

Here’s what has changed for Republican politicians: The rise of the tea party, its influence in the Republican Party, its crusade against government regulations, and the influx into electoral politics of vast sums of money from energy companies and sympathetic interest groups.

Republicans have long had close financial ties to the fossil-fuel industry, of course. Between 1998 and 2010, the oil-and-gas industry gave 75 percent of its $284 million in political contributions to Republicans…In the 2010 elections alone, the top five conservative and pro-industry outside groups and political action committees—including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Karl Rove-backed PAC American Crossroads, which have close ties to fossil-fuel interests—spent a combined $105 million to support GOP candidates (compared with a combined $8 million that the top five environmental groups spent to back Democrats).

The idiotic lie of support for climate-change action being driven by money, is, as usual, Rovian right-wing projection. There’s exponentially more dirty corporate money to be gained from denying climate science than accepting it. “Americans for Prosperity” admits as much:

Among the most influential of the new breed of so-called super PACs is the tea party group Americans for Prosperity, founded by David and Charles Koch, the principal owners of Koch Industries, a major U.S. oil conglomerate. As Koch Industries has lobbied aggressively against climate-change policy, Americans for Prosperity has spearheaded an all-fronts campaign using advertising, social media, and cross-country events aimed at electing lawmakers who will ensure that the oil industry won’t have to worry about any new regulations.

Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, says there’s no question that the influence of his group and others like it has been instrumental in the rise of Republican candidates who question or deny climate science. ‘If you look at where the situation was three years ago and where it is today, there’s been a dramatic turnaround. Most of these candidates have figured out that the science has become political,’ he said. ‘We’ve made great headway. What it means for candidates on the Republican side is, if you … buy into green energy or you play footsie on this issue, you do so at your political peril. The vast majority of people who are involved in the [Republican] nominating process—the conventions and the primaries—are suspect of the science. And that’s our influence. Groups like Americans for Prosperity have done it.’

Remember the above words from Koch tool Tim Phillips. When you consider the devastating impacts AGW-fueled droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events have had - and will have - they are tantamount to admission of a crime against humanity.

‘I think that there is some genuine soul-searching going on,’ said a GOP operative who, like most of the party’s staffers and strategists interviewed for this story, spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue. ‘If you look around at the environment, there’s nobody smart [saying], ‘No, there’s nothing going on.’ But the tea party is a political necessity.’

For much of the Republican Party, the current strategy on climate science is to, literally, run away from the question.

Such cowardice. Such lack of principle. Such selling-out of everyone’s future. And they have the nerve to think they can have their climate-denying cake and eat it too:

But in November 2010, after the tea party juggernaut swept Republicans into power in the House, Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor formulated a strategy to attack the Obama administration relentlessly on fossil-fuel and climate-change regulations but to keep silent on the issue of climate science. Some tea party Republicans, such as Texan Joe Barton, who is Inhofe’s prominent climate-skeptic counterpart in the House, had looked forward to holding hearings aimed at tearing down the established science. Boehner told Barton to lay off—out of fear, as one staffer put it, that such hearings would get the party branded as ‘flat-earthers.’

Too late, blubbering Boehner. Anyone with as little as half a functioning brain can see that’s exactly what you and your party have become.

‘It’s a very, very strong consensus,’ says Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the National Research Council. The level of certainty within the scientific community that burning fossil fuels warms the global atmosphere is comparable, he said, to the level of scientific certainty that vaccines prevent diseases such as measles and polio.

Perhaps that explains why anti-vaccine sentiment is on the rise on the right as well? (“Gardasil makes you retarded!!1!” Michele Bachmann, I’m looking at you).

Some senior Republicans who have left the battlefield of electoral politics are starting to go vocal with their worries about their party’s stance on climate change—and to take action to stave off its electoral consequences. They fear, in the words of one GOP operative, ‘that the party is going to drive itself off a cliff with this.’

Let them. I’m only worried about them taking the rest of us down in the process.

Former GOP Rep. Bob Inglis of South Carolina, who lost his primary race last year in part because he acknowledged climate change, gives speeches and lectures across the country about the need for conservatives to do likewise and begin working on solutions to the problem. Otherwise, the Republican Party will be labeled antiscience, he warns…‘Being branded as antiscience is not a good future for us,’ Inglis told National Journal. ‘How can we say to young people, we’re dismissing science? That’s not a good place for our party to be, and it’s not historically where we’ve been. There are conservative voices that will hopefully show the way back to conservatism and away from a populist rejection of science.’

I feel for Bob Inglis, but the GOP base and its Fox/Koch puppetmasters have made it abundantly clear there’s no place for people like him in the “modern” GOP.

On November 8, William Reilly, who ran the Environmental Protection Agency under President George H.W. Bush, blasted his party’s stance on science in a widely reported speech. ‘For some of the most prominent leaders of the Republican Party, science has left the building,’ he said.

And will it ever come back?

In the long term, Reilly and other voices within the GOP fear that the party’s inevitable reckoning with science may come too late. ‘Somehow, we’re operating on two levels of reality,’ he said. ‘One is ideological reality, which seems to work for some ideologues. But there is also the scientific reality. It was Republicans who traditionally have pushed for more science to underpin regulations. Science has suffered most severely in the current Republican Party. The ideologues will deny it right up to a point where there’s … a crisis—and then they won’t anymore.’

Truth be told, I don’t even believe that - the GOP base and establishment have become such accomplished liars, such committed fossil-fuel industry shills, that even when the inevitable crisis comes - major metropolitan areas either running out of water or under it - they’ll find some way to blame it on abortion, atheists, or gays.

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