The Republican civil war on climate change

Coral Davenport at National Journal has an excellent piece on the "coming civil war in the Republican party."

Already, deep fissures are emerging between, on one side, a base of ideological voters and lawmakers with strong ties to powerful tea-party groups and super PACs funded by the fossil-fuel industry who see climate change as a false threat concocted by liberals to justify greater government control; and on the other side, a quiet group of moderates, younger voters, and leading conservative intellectuals who fear that if Republicans continue to dismiss or deny climate change, the party will become irrelevant.

“There is a divide within the party,” says Samuel Thernstrom, who served on President George W. Bush’s Council on Environmental Quality and is now a scholar of environmental policy at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. “The position that climate change is a hoax is untenable.”

Davenport touches on how Republicans both inside and outside the beltway are working to explain to fellow conservatives that climate change is real and addressing makes important moral and economical sense.

One problem is that members of Congress face radical, fundamentalist challengers from their right in primaries if they are seen as too moderate:

Inglis had never given much thought to the issue of climate change. As a by-the-books conservative, he says, “I accepted that if Al Gore was for it, I was against it, until my son challenged my ignorance on the subject.” Inglis spent the next few years educating himself on climate issues. He joined the House Science Committee and accompanied climate scientists on research trips to Antarctica and the Great Barrier Reef, where he saw firsthand the damages wrought by rising carbon pollution and warming temperatures. “I got convinced of the science,” he says, and, in 2009, Inglis cosponsored climate-change legislation with Republican Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona. The bill proposed an idea that had strong backing from environmentalists, including Gore, as well as prominent conservative economists. It would create a tax on carbon pollution but use the revenue to cut payroll or income taxes.

Inglis would pay dearly for his support of the so-called carbon-tax swap. The following year, he lost his primary election to a tea-party candidate, Trey Gowdy. And Inglis knows his position on the climate was the reason. “The most enduring heresy was saying, ‘Climate change is real and we should do something about it.’ That was seen as a statement against the tribal orthodoxy.”

This tribalism and manufactured ignorance is the biggest hurdle facing climate action.

A recent study found that belief in end times theology dissuades people from wanting to protect and preserve the environment:

“[T]he fact that such an overwhelming percentage of Republican citizens profess a belief in the Second Coming (76 percent in 2006, according to our sample) suggests that governmental attempts to curb greenhouse emissions would encounter stiff resistance even if every Democrat in the country wanted to curb them,” Barker and Bearce wrote in their study, which will be published in the June issue of Political Science Quarterly.

Add to this the misinformation being propagated by an insular, right-wing media and it is no wonder that there is a divide on the understanding of science.

Greg Laden at National Geographic's Science Blogs recently resurfaced the above video of a self-described Bill O'Reilly viewer upset after having learned that climate change is real from the film Chasing Ice. Her reaction is at once both disturbing and inspiring. She is visibly upset and speaks of the arguments she has had because of her strong, but uninformed opposition to climate change science, something many of us can probably relate to in our own circle of friends and family. Yet, she is proof that the right message can break through and enlighten even the most ardent of climate deniers.

Hopefully the Republicans Davenport profiles will be able to help persuade more people on their side -- and the members of Congress that represent them -- to understand the science and take climate action before it is too late.

Tags: Carbon Taxes | Congress | Conservation | Global Climate Change