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Marvin Meadors

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Why Is the GOP Ignoring Its Own Climate Scientists About Climate Change?

Posted: 03/22/2012 2:38 pm

According to a fascinating article by Katherine Bagley prosaically titled "GOP Not Listening to its Own Climate Scientists on Climate Change," a group of prominent conservative scientists, many of them evangelicals, approached conservative politicians to educate them on climate change and predictably the pols have not "warmed," shall we say, to their efforts.

Although usually loath to announce their political leanings, these Republican-affiliated scientists thought conservatives may be receptive to scientists with conservative credentials. Who are these concerned scientists and how do they get conservative politicians to embrace climate change when many of them see the use of alternative energies as a step toward anarchy?

According to Ms. Bagley, the scientists undertaking this Sisyphean task include Prof. Kerry Emanuel of MIT who was inundated with hate mail after identifying himself in a video as a conservative and voicing concerns about the GOP denial of climate change. Prof. Barry Bickmore, a Mormon, is a geochemist at Brigham Young University and has represented the GOP in local politics. Prof. Richard Alley is the author of a plethora of peer-reviewed papers on climate change and has offered expert testimony to Congress on several occasions. Prof. Calvin DeWitt, is a co-signer of the Evangelical Climate Initiative, a statement from high-profile evangelicals calling for concerted action to battle global warming. Finally, Prof. Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist, is an evangelical married to a pastor. Newt Gingrich notoriously dropped a chapter she wrote from his latest book on the environment after Rush Limbaugh referred to her as a "climate babe."

According to the article, a 2010 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences stated "roughly 98 percent of U.S. climate researchers are convinced that rising emissions from human activities is hastening climate change." Despite this resolve, the right has evolved from a reluctance to accept the science to an outright dismissal bordering on hostility. For example, a few years ago former Speaker Gingrich famously made a commercial sitting on a couch with Rep. Nancy Pelosi in front of the White House saying the country must take "bold action" to address climate change. Backtracking, Newt now says it was the "dumbest thing he has done in the last four years."

Again, according to the article, the scientists are opposed by the usual climate change denial industry bad guys straight from central casting such as "oil industry donors and powerful advocacy groups who have the ear of the GOP, like Americans for Prosperity." These groups have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to bankroll conservative politicians,

Tim Phillips, president of the Americans for Prosperity, an organization founded and financed by the oil industry and some of the Republican party's wealthiest donors, admits the influence of his group. "The vast majority of people who are involved in the [Republican] nominating process -- the conventions and the primaries -- are suspect of the science. And that's our influence, groups like Americans for Prosperity have done it," he said.

There is a concerted campaign to smear the science, according to Prof. Emmanuel.

And let me say that I think that there is a campaign of disinformation going on about this, and there has been before. We saw it before with the attempts by the tobacco industry to throw cold water on the notion that there was a connection between cigarette smoking and cancer... if [conservatives] simply deny that there's any problem at all they have automatically opted out of the conversation about what the solutions to the problems are going to be.

So how do conservative politicians influence policy after they have "automatically opted out of the conversation about solutions"? It is certainly a good question and leaves the GOP in a bit of a dilemma. I mean if the party just denies modern problems, especially one of the greatest we confront as a civilization, then they may veer towards irrelevancy. Are they waiting for 100 percent of climate scientists to join the consensus that man is warming the environment through the burning of fossil fuels? I think not. They will still deny the problem by pointing to scientists outside the climate science field or perhaps even meteorologists who are notoriously reluctant as a group to accept climate change. Perhaps as alternative energies fall in price they may be harder and harder to ignore. Perhaps jobs in their district tied to alternative energies will be the key to changing their minds. In the meantime, it will be harder and harder to ignore the freakish weather patterns and impacts they are having like flooding, wild fires, and drought. After all, CO2 molecules do what they do and are not influenced by any skepticism on the right.

So, before we get conservative politicians to change their minds regarding climate change we must get them to listen, a rather Herculean task in itself. As of now, GOP leaders are thought to be listening to the perhaps five percent of climate scientists outside the consensus camp who are unsure of man's role in the warming of the planet, or worse yet, the fossil fuel industry. What is obvious is that the GOP is the party representing the top one percent of the income strata that listens to the minority five percent of climate scientists, really not a firm foundation on which to form a majority governing coalition!