Bill Clinton: GOP Climate Denial Makes U.S. "Look Like a Joke"


Photo: Taylor Davidson, the Clinton Global Initiative, via Flickr

In the opening session of 2011's Clinton Global Initiative, Bill Clinton sat down with world leaders to discuss climate change. Clinton had some nice words about how we need to do a better job of capturing the imaginations of ordinary people in the fight against climate change. But he really came to life an hour or so later, in a talk with the New York Times columnist Nick Kristof. Clinton said that the single most important thing an American can do right now is to make it unacceptable to be a climate change denier -- and that the GOP's global warming denial makes us "look like a joke" in the international community. "If you're an American," Clinton said, "the best thing you can do is make it unacceptable" to be a climate change denier. "We look like a joke, right? You can't win the nomination of one of our major parties if you admit that the scientists are right."

Clinton was referring to the fact that it is currently politically untenable for a Republican to even say they acknowledge that climate change is occurring. And that's despite the fact that 97% of climate scientists, and every major scientific institution in the world, say that global warming is quite real, and that humans are causing it. Clinton's advice echoes the exhortations voiced by his former Vice President's during Gore's 24 Hours of Reality program--an event explicitly aimed at beating back anti-science climate denial. The takeaway of Climate Reality is that the informed need to "win the conversation" and force science denial into retreat.

The ex-president seemed exasperated: "We need the debate between people who are a little bit to the left and a little bit to the right what's the best way is to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. We can't have this conversation because we've got to deny it?" This is primarily because the GOP has made a unified effort to deny the root of the problem in the first place.

An audience member then asked how we might go about changing the current state of affairs.

"How do you make it politiclly unacceptable?" Clinton said. "Argue? Boycott? Invest?"

You can't win the argument, Clinton said, until you demonstrate that the problems that the deniers are worried about are really opportunities. That there "are economically advantageous ways" to respond to climate change.

"It's tough out there ... If you want to make a difference, point to a single, solitary way that producing green energy increased employment," Clinton said. There are many indeed to choose from.

"If you listen to Rush Limbaugh," Clinton said, and "he tells you that climate change is a hoax ... If you don't know better, if you haven't seen better," then you'll likely continue to deny the science. "You have to change the experience of people."

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