Since "climategate" first broke the news two years ago, American efforts to enact effective climate policy at the federal level have been significantly undermined by a confluence of events -- from the emergence of a Republican majority in the House of Representatives in the 112th US Congress, to the increasingly emboldened and elected Tea Party movement and the 2012 US Presidential candidacy -- all of which have perpetuated a political perspective that not only denies anthropogenic global warming, its prevalence and potential impacts, but also aims to eviscerate environmental policies and the agencies that regulate them.
In 2009, immediately pre-climategate, while aggressive emissions-reducing cap-and-trade legislation was never politically palpable (e.g. a watered-down American Clean Energy and Security Act passed the US House but not the US Senate), the email scandal heralded a watershed moment for Republicans who wanted to further sow doubt in the American public's mind. The ground was fertile: Americans tended to view science as uncertain and open to debate and scrutiny, and American media tended to represent both perspectives of a news story, intimating an equality between climate scientists and climate skeptics vis-a-vis evidence and legitimacy.
Seizing upon this sentiment, Republican-controlled state governments, led by Texas and Virginia and supported by similar petitions from the US Chamber of Commerce, cited "climategate" in a challenge to EPA's December 2009 Endangerment Finding, a finding which determined that climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions endangers human health and welfare and requires regulation under the Clean Air Act. The Virginia Tea Party followed suit, stating that "climategate" confirmed that cap-and-trade legislation was a political non-starter, while the Texas Tea Party called "climategate" a "disgraceful scientific chronicle," adding that climate scientists failed in proving CO2 causes warming and climate change.
Incidentally, the Tea Party's small government, anti-federalism philosophy complemented well the more mainstream Republican anti-climate-regulation thinking. Republican Texas Governor, and leading Republican presidential candidate, Rick Perry tapped into this sentiment when suing the EPA for its decision to regulate GHG, saying he was defending Texas against federal overreach, citing "climategate" as evidence that regulation was inappropriate.
These events became the foundation for two emerging trends. First, anti-environmentalism soon spread throughout Republican presidential candidacies, with Newt Gingrich calling for the elimination of the EPA, Michelle Bachmann pledging to have EPA's doors locked and lights turned off and mainstream Republicans calling the EPA a job-killer. Second, anti-federalism and deficit reduction agendas in the 112th Republican-controlled House of Representatives witnessed cuts across the board, including planned cuts to the EPA and other conservation, energy efficiency and environmental protection programs.
Two years later, as US Congressman Darrell Issa tries prevent EPA from controlling greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, "climategate" appears to have contributed to an increasing anti-environmentalism and anti-regulation fervor in the Republican Party, at the state and federal levels and among 2012 presidential candidates. Whether or not the Republican Party's conservation bloc or the general public will support these more extreme measures remains to be seen. Either way, at the political level at least, the climate science community's ability to impact policymakers and policymakers has undoubtedly been shaken.
Michael Shank is a doctoral candidate at George Mason University's School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, an Associate atThe Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict in The Hague, and a board member at The National Peace Academy.
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