"It is difficult to identify another major political party in any democracy as thoroughly dismissive of climate science as is the GOP here." That's the pull quote from an important column in the National Journal today and it reveals an ugly, under-reported truth about American politics. Conservatives and conservative leaders the world over -- David Cameron's Tories in Britain, Nicolas Sarkozy in France, Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union in Germany, and so on -- do not shy from the science of climate change. In fact, there's only one democracy in the world where a prominent political party has made it a point to deny climate science: The United States. But why?GOP Climate Exceptionalism
Ronald Brownstein explains in the Journal:
Republicans in this country are coalescing around a uniquely dismissive position on climate change. The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones.
This change has proceeded in two stages. First came a hardening of Republican opposition to cap-and-trade legislation intended to limit the emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to climate change. Most congressional Republicans had always opposed such legislation, but that position wasn't monolithic: In 2005, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and five other Republicans voted for a cap-and-trade bill that he co-sponsored. Several GOP governors also acted on climate-change issues.
He goes on to point out that when Lindsey Graham was working on the Senate climate bill, he couldn't get a single other Republican to pledge support. But the problem has now advanced far beyond Senate deal-making or opposition to specific legislation. As Brownstein notes, "when the National Journal recently surveyed the 21 GOP Senate challengers with a serious chance of winning this fall, each opposed cap-and-trade."
This is consistent with previous surveys, one done by the Wonk Room, which found that after Mike Castle's loss to Christine O'Donnell in the primaries, not a single Republican candidate that was left that acknowledged climate science at all. Brownstein notes this as well, saying "virtually all of the serious 2010 GOP challengers have moved beyond opposing cap-and-trade to dismissing the scientific evidence that global warming is even occurring." And lest you think that this political line is commonplace, consider this: "Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, says that although other parties may contain pockets of climate skepticism, there is "no party-wide view like this anywhere in the world that I am aware of."
So how did this come to be?
How did the wealthiest nation in the world end up with one of the most powerful political parties in existence denying a body of scientific evidence that the rest of the world acknowledges? It's hard to say exactly. The Tea Party and its firm anti-climate action stances have been responsible for elevating this most recent wave of climate denying politicians into the spotlight, but the roots go deeper.
As is often said about climate change, people don't hate the science -- they hate the solution. American conservatives have never liked cap and trade, since every effort designed to address greenhouse gas emissions on a large scale impacts or regulates the companies that emit them. And, of course, conservative politicians typically represent states whose industries emit heavily. So until a couple years ago, the science was acknowledged, if obliquely, and it was merely the solutions that were rejected.
What landed us in our current situation probably had to do with a combination of the rise of the Tea Party, opportunistic and well-funded lobbies, and a specific major media outlet or two dominating the conservative voice at a particular point in time. It's just a hunch, but here goes:
As the Democrats worked to pass the climate bill in the House, industry think tanks and politicians from oil and coal-dependent states started taking a harder line against climate science itself to bolster their political arguments against cap and trade. Meanwhile, a more general anti-regulatory, anti-government sentiment began rising up in the form of the Tea Party, which was covered exhaustively (and perhaps prodded on) by the dominant conservative media. Outlets like Fox News and media icons like Rush Limbaugh may have then (or already had) adopted a hard denial of climate change to conform to the standards borne by the anti-regulatory movement, and touted the studies from the anti-climate think tanks and remarks from anti-climate politicians.
All this seems to have created a closed circuit where climate change denial came to be a fundamental belief, one which sat alongside Second Amendment rights, a hatred of government spending, and regulation of all kinds. The science became perilously synonymous with the solution, and it became a sort of Tea Party core value to disavow the science of climate change. The so-called 'Climate Gate' debacle, taken far less seriously around the rest of the world, provided some icing on the cake, some talking points to validate the denial.
So, if you want to get elected into a political party whose most activist, most mobilized arm denies climate science -- and the media outlets they pay attention to feed them sympathetic information in a closed loop -- it's time you start denying some climate science.
My feeling is that after the Tea Party flames out -- whether it be a couple months or a couple years -- there will be a little more room for the many strong bipartisan arguments that can be made for addressing climate change. There will of course always be conservative skeptics and American exceptionalists who believe that only they can see through the muddled lies and grand conspiracies that liberals have foisted upon the world. But they won't always dominate the discourse.
More on GOP and Climate Science
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WV Governor Shoots Down Cap & Trade Bill. Literally. (Video)