Climate Change: A Lesson in Political Science
Every presidential election has its subplots, and this is one of the best ever:
Can Rush Limbaugh dictate and enforce Republican Party orthodoxy on climate change?
Mitt Romney said last June in New Hampshire, "I believe the world is getting warmer ... and ... I believe that humans contributed to that."
Rush responded by saying: "Bye-bye, nomination. Another one down. ... The last year has established that the whole premise of man-made global warming is a hoax. And we still have presidential candidates who want to buy into it."
Most Republican presidential candidates side with Rush.
How is it that we have a supermajority of Republican presidential candidates opposing a hyper-majority of climate scientists? How do these candidates form their scientific views? Do they stay up late at night finding flaws in peer-reviewed journals? Do they engage and defeat the experts in debate? Or do they listen to someone whose views they embrace and say, "I think what HE said!"
It's the last one, and the "HE" is Rush.
In public, Rush says that the science is bogus. It's for sale, and the "scientific consensus" on climate change is falsely created by scientists who deliver the results their funders want.
In private, Rush thinks: "Climate change sounds ominous. If people believe it, they'll call for government action. What would that be like? The government would put a price on carbon. This would give the government a bigger role in the economy. I hate that. So I should say climate change doesn't exist — because if it does exist, the solution means a role for government that I don't like."
Of course, if climate change could be solved with tax cuts, Rush would insist that climate change is real and dire and that we should act without delay to solve the problem.
But Rush and his cohorts hate the solution, so they deny the problem. And they're working to make as many Americans doubt it as they can.
In this pursuit, Al Gore is their ally. This is a wicked irony. The former vice president has done more than anyone to make the public aware of the dangers of climate change, but he is a polarizing figure. He can't convince the skeptics; he only reinforces their doubts, and the shrewd climate skeptics know it and play on it.
So Gore and the Democrats are off the stage in this drama. The outcome of the climate debate pivots on Republicans — which is why Rush's role is so crucial. Will he be able to choreograph the views of the right and intimidate those who dissent?
In a recent piece of evidence from Pittsburgh, Romney shifted. This time, he said: "My view is that we don't know what's causing climate change on this planet."
If Rush succeeds and the Republicans nominate a candidate who denies climate change, what will be the political costs to the Republicans — especially if weather events become more severe and former skeptics slowly defect? (Notably, physicist Richard Muller — a prominent climate change skeptic from the University of California, Berkeley — has become an ex-skeptic. He told Congress in November that his two-year study of global temperature data — funded partly by the conservative climate change-denying billionaire Koch brothers — confirms the consensus on warming.)
Playwrights and storytellers have thrilled audiences for centuries with tales of protagonists slowly coming to terms with the awful truth. But the plot and complications of those dramas were trivial compared with this.
Rush and his cohorts are trying to build a party orthodoxy that contradicts the views of 98 percent of climate scientists.
If the 50-1 long shot pays off, they're geniuses, and the country enters a long period of unbearable Republican boastfulness. If they're wrong, we become victims of a high-stakes bet-the-future political gamble of reckless arrogance.
When the play is written, it should be titled "The Audacity of Nope."
To find out more about Tom Rosshirt and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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