Party Line

Brad Johnson from The Wonk Room recently released a comprehensive list of what Republican contenders for the U.S. Senate understand about climate change, inferred from their public statements. The result? 47 of the 48 deny the existence of anthropogenic climate change and/or oppose mitigating action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Take a look – many of the statements are what you would expect from trolling YouTube commenters, not politicians aspiring to run the most powerful country in the world. Through a combination of framing science as personal opinion, promoting artificial balance, and re-iterating the same misconceptions that people like you and I have been fighting to correct for years now, the Republican party has adopted a position that, frankly, terrifies me.

“There are dramatic environmental changes happening the Arctic region – whether one believes they are man-made or natural.” – John McCain, Arizona

“While I think the earth is warming, I don’t think that man-made causes are the primary factor.” – Ken Buck, Colorado

“The climate is always changing. The climate is never static. The question is whether it’s caused by man-made activity and whether it justifies economically destructive government regulation.” -Marco Rubio, Florida

“[Scientists] are making up their facts to fit their conclusions. They’ve already caught them doing this.” – Rand Paul, Kentucky

“There isn’t any real science to say we are altering the climate path of the Earth.” -Roy Blunt, Missouri

“I don’t buy into the whole man-caused global warming, man-caused climate change mantra of the left. I believe that there’s not sound science to back that up.” -Sharron Angle, Nevada

“There is much debate in the scientific community as to the precise sources of global warming.” -Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania

“It’s going to keep snowing in DC until Al Gore cries ‘uncle’.” -Jim DeMint, South Carolina

“If you have one volcano in the world, that one volcano puts out more carbon dioxide than everything man puts out.” -John Raese, West Virginia

“I absolutely do not believe that the science of man-caused climate change is proven. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I think it’s far more likely that it’s just sunspot activity, or something just in the geologic eons of time where we have changes in the climate.” -Ron Johnson, Wisconsin

Who are these people to make statements about what the scientific community knows and does not know about climate change, when organizations like the NAS are quite capable of doing that themselves, and tell a very different story to these prospective Senators when they do?

Who are they to make informal analyses on the attribution of recent temperature change – assessing the likelihood of different causes via gut instinct, rather than looking at fingerprints like stratospheric temperature and tropopause height?

Who are they to spread around blatant mistruths like “a single volcano puts out more CO2 than people do”? Who are they to make damaging accusations about scientific fraud and false data, especially when these accusations have already been investigated multiple times, coming up completely clear?

I had hoped that politicians would be slightly more informed than the general public on scientific matters that have implications for policy. However, I must now change my mind, and hope instead that the American public realizes how off the mark this position is. If they don’t, there could be consequences up to millenia from now.

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19 thoughts on “Party Line

  1. Yeah, it’s pretty depressing. The Tea Party is controlling Republican primary elections. The base always dominates primary voting, and the Republican base right now is right-wing extremist “Tea Party” members. Republican moderates just can’t win nominations this year. See Miller over Murkowski in Alaska and O’Donnell over Castle in Delaware. So to win nominations, previously reasonable people like John McCain have to shift way to the right and pretend to be ultra-conservative.

    The only good news is that this will end up costing Republicans in the November general election. For example, Castle was going to beat the Democrat candidate, but O’Donnell will lose.

    The bad news is that some of these extremists will win their elections (Miller probably will, for example), and the entire Republican party will be afraid to vote for any climate legislation, probably for several years to come. Despite their extremism and global warming denial, Republicans are going to gain seats in November, and will more likely than not gain control of the House of Representatives.

    It’s a rather embarrassing time to be an American. Almost as bad as when we re-elected George W. Bush.

  2. Those comments by the politicians fit nicely with this Australian research:

    http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/psychology-provides-insight-into-why-people-doubt-climate-change-20100919-15hy4.html

    It suggests that some people are more likely to be skeptical than others which is something that I have been aware of for some time.

    I think this statement is one of the most strange:
    “…or something just in the geologic eons of time where we have changes in the climate”(Ron Johnson, Wisconsin)

    Some people seem to think that energy can be changed by magic. Some additional energy/heat can sort of modulate over millions of years without any cause. What does Ron think the ‘something’ is?
    It’s some sort of need to introduce some ‘divine’ influence maybe?

    Yes, I agree. The phrase “it’s just a natural cycle” implies that the climate has an internal self-correcting feature so that all extremes are averaged out. In reality, it’s not like a pendulum, but since the only examples of past climate change that most people are aware of are the ice ages (and very few have any idea what causes them), the idea of cycles has really caught on. Somehow, in the process, people have forgotten the logic that there has to be a mechanism for all climate changes. It doesn’t just happen on its own. If the forcing is cyclical, the response will be cyclical, but forcings can take different shapes entirely. -Kate

  3. I have been fighting the battle in New Mexico against the deniers and skeptics. They all have something in common. They are not scientists and only have a smattering of science knowledge. One denier in the local paper today mentioned that his high school biology teacher told him that CO2 was good because plants use it to produce oxygen and “if CO2 is a gas, so is oxygen,!” I find it difficult to believe someone could be so stupid, but that’s what we are facing in the U.S. A failed education system producing functional illiterates as high school graduates who can’t examine facts and from them draw a logical conclusion. There is so much misinformation out there and if functional illiterates can’t discriminate or tell the difference between fact and fiction, we are in serious trouble.

  4. Stupid is as stupid does? The reason why they’re using such lame troll statements may be because they 1) don’t have the intelligence/education/critical thinking skills to grasp anything more complex than Grade 7 concepts, or 2) they know their constituents aren’t capable of anything more complex than Grade 7 concepts so it doesn’t matter what they say.

    I’ve noticed many of our local politicians in Canada are professional politicians in that they don’t have any other job skills. Some of course do leave law firms or their own businesses to go into politics, but too many of them go into politics after failed job attempts or from being poor used car salesmen. Makes you want to enforce the truism that states Anyone who wants to run for public office should be permanently barred from public office.

  5. I suspect that John McCain knows the importance of the difference. Given his past behaviour in the congress statements like this make me sad.

    “There are dramatic environmental changes happening the Arctic region – whether one believes they are man-made or natural.” John McCain

    Yes, during the election his campaign promises were almost as good as Obama’s in that respect, and I liked his enthusiasm for nuclear power. -Kate

  6. I had hoped that politicians would be slightly more informed than the general public on scientific matters that have implications for policy.
    Ah, the idealism of youth!

    If they don’t, there could be consequences up to millenia from now.
    Unfortunately, given that one of the consequences of some of the worse scenarios include the extinction of around half of all currently existing species, then in that case the consequences would continue for much longer than a mere thousand years.

  7. Sadly most policians don’t make decisions or form positions based on what they think is right, they base it on what they think will help them win elections. Right now Republicans think that global warming denial is a winning position. They didn’t generally think so as recently as 2 years ago. It’s a sad state of affairs.

  8. McCain has flipflopped on the issue, but that statement is not a statement of ignorance as is being implied by being put on this list. He doesn’t link to the full quote, but luckily Joe Romm did. It is not clear that McCain is saying he has doubts. He could be saying, it doesn’t matter if its manmade or natural, action must be taken because the results are real. Here is the full statement.

    To what extent, if any, does global warming pose a threat to lives, property and the economy? Do you support the cap-and-trade energy reform legislation under consideration in Congress?
    No, I do not support the cap-and-trade energy reform legislation under consideration in Congress. There are dramatic environmental changes happening in the arctic region – whether one believes they are man-made or natural. In fact, the U.S. Navy and the maritime industry deems the melting of the polar icecap from global warming significant enough that they are making plans now to deal with the likelihood sea lanes in the Arctic Ocean will be open yearlong.

    While I believe that in is in the national security and economic interest of the United States to address our energy independence and carbon emissions, this action must be taken in a responsible, measured manner that will not cripple our economy.

    Nuclear power must to be a significant piece of our country’s energy portfolio. Unfortunately, none of the pieces of climate or energy legislation that have been introduced in Congress adequately address what to do with used nuclear fuel now that President Obama has cancelled storing that material at Yucca Mountain. Without a long term solution to permanently dispose, recycle, or reprocess nuclear waste, we will be prevented from creating the amount of clean energy necessary for future economic growth and environmental restoration.

    He’s still framing the attribution of climate change as a personal opinion. Science is not “what one believes”: it is this of which McCain is ignorant. -Kate

  9. Unfortunately, the ill-informed speak in terms of “belief” and equate climate science to a belief. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Scientists acquire facts and data and observations and the real world. Beliefs are for theologians and politicians, the latter of which are poorly educated in the sciences. For example, Mr. Inhofe, senator from Oklahoma, has a BA degree from U. of Tulsa which he received at age 38, and no schooling since, yet he claims expertise in climate science! Inhofe coined the term “junk science” for climate science, if I remember correctly. Sad, these people of “faith.”

  10. My favourite quip: If politicians won’t respond to evidence the world is coming to an end, they might respond to evidence that their careers are coming to an end.

  11. Yes, but is it his opinion, or is he commenting on other peoples’ opinions? That’s where I think he may be is being misquoted.

  12. Let’s be fair to McCain. He has co-authored several climate bills. He’s no global warming ‘skeptic’. However, he was opposed in this year’s primary election by a right-wing ultra-conservative ‘Tea Party’ candidate. John McCain is your typical politician who will say and do anything it takes in order to win an election. He felt that adding some ambiguity to his climate change position with this ‘whether one believes they are man-made or natural’ statement would help him win the nomination. Sadly, he was probably right about that.

    McCain isn’t ignorant about climate science, he’s just a spineless finger-to-the-wind politician. This isn’t the only topic which he’s shifted his position on in order to win more votes – not by a long shot.

  13. Dana is right about McCain – he is well informed and knows his stuff. He even opposed corn ethanol subsidies (a truly useless and destructive policy supported by both sides for some time). He is well informed, just even better informed on his polling numbers and the things that will improve them. That’s why he’s been around so long. He hates Palin and much of what she stands for, but included her on his ticket in 08 as a calculated risk. For a few weeks, it was paying off and it certainly stole the limelight from Obama’s speech at the Democrat convention. Very clever move politically. Very stupid in almost every other sense. That is McCain (and indeed, many politicians. Some seem genuinely stupid).

    Speaking of which, thought you might all like this comic.

  14. Kate,

    I just Tweeted, Facebooked, and sent this to over 600 faculty at my college. I will be accised of being political on that email list but…so what.

    Wow! Thanks for helping to spread the word. -Kate

  15. Research shows that many people’s positions on various scientific issues are based on the proposed solutions to the problem and not on the science that illuminated the problem. A very good example can be found here:

    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1017189 (The full paper can be viewed free)

    In this study, global warming, school shootings, domestic terrorism, nanotechnology, and the mandatory vaccination of school-age girls against HPV, among other issues, were addressed. The authors essentially found if a person does not like the solution to the message, then they discounted the message. A variation of the “shoot the messenger” theme. Regarding global warming and the strong link to human GHG emissions, those who described themselves as Republican or Libertarian did not agree with the science when the solution offered was increased government regulation. Given the same science message but with a solution of deregulating the nuclear power industry, these same groups were much more willing to accept the science.

    I address other reasons that people do not accept the science here:

    http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/mandias/global_warming/global_warming_misinformation_reasons.html

  16. I was very interested to see Scott’s post and read the info on the provided links. Anecdotally, this matches, or at least has some parallels with my own experience with undergraduate students in Australia and in Canada (and this with students taking environment-focused classes). In a previous post on ClimateSight I suggested student disengagement with environmental problems such as AGW may reflect (with my students) a fatigue with hearing about environmental problems, and a corresponding yearning to learn about how they can ‘participate in fixing the problems’. I think the magnitude of AGW is also a turn-off, leading in some to a rejection of AGW.

    What do we do? I’m not sure. There are 2 different audiences; my students are in the class room because they are already engaged and willing to learn at some level, but people out in the community, whether scientifically literate or not, have other motivations. As an educator, my response has been to try and engage students in a 2-step process of discovery about environmental issues through understanding the underlying physical and biological processes as ‘science’ (including a sense of wonder and curiosity; they’re studying science afterall because they have a curiosity about how the world works), and then addressing the environmental problem (policy, management) but the latter tied to an discussion of the range of solutions available coupled to a discussion of the science underlying these. I’m sure I am not always successful (geology profs at my university are mostly in the camp ‘ climatge change is happening, but its a natural process’, and many geology students at BU reflect that viewpoint). I know some students sit there and replay back to me the phrases they think will deliver an ‘A’ from ‘Professor Greenwood, the climate change guy’. I try and stress to them that we should be open to genuine debate on matters of policy and where the science is vague or undecided, and engage in discussion in class. But even these young people seem tainted by the public discourse and prejudiced flow of information from the denialist blogosphere – ‘You defend climate change because you get a big research grant’.

    But I also know that I must be getting through to some of them. A few years back a mature student approached me in the corridor and thanked me for my lectures on climate change and also on mining and energy. I asked her what she liked. Her reply was instructive. She said “Unlike my other professors, you weren’t telling me what to think, but rather gave me the tools and information by which I could make up my own mind.” She elaborated that she now accepted AGW. I must surmise from her remarks that some of her other professors engage in proselytising (I must also surmise, from both sides of the AGW ‘debate’) and so ‘turned her off’ from their message.

    I live in a rural area where both agriculture and resource extraction (oil & gas, mining, forestry) are key economic drivers. For me to simply paint these sectors as ‘bad corporate and global citizens’ due to their environmental footprint is both counter productive (many of my students will work in those industries, most have family members who do) and ill-informed. Environmentral advocacy, whether AGW or the loss of biodiversity, or good old plain pollution (a big topic in western Manitoba; manure from hog production), needs to weigh the economic benefits against the environmental costs. And I don’t mean environment must always lose out to the mighty dollar; my philosophy is the opposite. But pragmatism dictates that solutions posed must deal with the reality that people want good jobs and quality of life. Address these too, and you are more likely to keep your audience – much as Scott notes in his post, the conservatives and libertarians are more willing to be on-side if their ideological opposition to ‘government regulation’ was satisfied.

  17. Blantant lying by skeptic bloggers is also inflammatory. These people are committing a fraud on the public and should be put in jail.

    As much as we all hate it, lying on the Internet is not a crime. -Kate

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