The Cruel, Cruel Irony of Senator James Inhofe's "The Greatest Hoax"

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Sen. James Inhofe, Congress's leading climate opponent, has a new book: "The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future". Regrettably, I had to buy the thing for an assignment—I actually spent a few agonizing moments in Barnes & Noble, lingering, wondering whether I should just take some photos of pertinent pages with my smart phone and get the hell out of there, out of principle.

Alas, I bought it, and so far, it's every bit as ridiculous as you'd think. There's plenty of outright climate denial, self-aggrandizement (he repeatedly calls himself a "one-man truth squad") and conspiracy theorizing (as you'd guess from the book's title). But, what struck me just five pages in is the cruelly ironic sequence of events that led him to life as a public official. The anecdote goes like this:

"When I was young I used to work with [my mentor A.W. Swift] on his oil rigs, and he taught me so much about energy development and how to run a successful business ... A.W. had one son, Bert, who had become an engineer and the three of us worked together. One night, there was a terrible tragedy on the rig: the well that Bert and I were working on exploded and he was fatally burned. After Bert's death, I became like a son to A.W. ...

About twenty years later, when I drove up to visit him at his home overlooking Keystone Lake, I was shocked to see all of his cable tool rigs stacked and sitting idel in the his front yard. He told me sadly that he had given up his drilling business. When I asked why, he said, "It's because I can't handle the government regulations any longer." ... I remember thinking at the time how ironic it was that the very government that was supposed to create an environment where A.W. could achieve his American dream was the very institution that had managed to quell it.

Now, this is not to be insensitive, but some people would include in their American dream their son not dying in fiery rig explosion—and that's the reason why we have all those pesky regulations. It's unfortunate if A.W. was unable to adapt his business to safety regulations, but, especially in the 1970s, when this story takes place, drilling was a dangerous business. And who knows how many lives the drilling regulations that led to A.W.'s quitting his job saved?

I doubt Inhofe has ever considered the irony, however—that the regulations he's spent his life fighting against could very well have saved his mentor's son's life.

These anecdotes (along with another involving a City Engineer who wouldn't immediately approve a renovation Inhofe wanted), are what the Oklahoma senator claims led him to seek public office—and they are telling. He's firmly convinced that regulation is the scourge of the nation, an impediment to honest business. And that, essentially, is what led him to take on climate change—he imagined a vast regime of regulations cascading down upon the nation, putting his buddies out of work and preventing him from redoing a fire escape. This is really common, actually: Those most inclined to deny climate change are also most inclined to decry regulation and be suspicious of big government.

And even if those imagined regulations (which in reality wouldn't be nearly as intrusive as he believes) were to avert catastrophic climate change—saving millions of Berts in the process—Inhofe will be damned if he'll let them burden the A.W.s of the world.

So far, the Greatest Hoax is turning out to be more illuminating than I'd imagined ...

The Cruel, Cruel Irony of Senator James Inhofe's "The Greatest Hoax"
Or, how one senator's blind hatred of government regulations led to a lifelong campaign to discredit climate change.

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