02/05/2015 02:23 pm ET Updated Apr 07, 2015

Oblivious to Oblivion

Tom Williams via Getty Images

Scientists have moved the well-publicized Doomsday Clock from five minutes to three minutes before midnight (aka catastrophe), but the Republican majorities in Congress are not keeping time.

A board of prominent scientists advanced the minute hand because in their view, unchecked climate change and global nuclear-weapon modernization are pushing humanity to the brink.

With due apologies to the board, you don't have to be a renowned scientist to see where mankind is heading. Not a week seems to go by without release of some peer-reviewed study documenting climate-related environmental degradation. If it isn't record-breaking high temperatures or deteriorating oceans, it's sea-level rise and declining biodiversity.

The global condition certainly merits serious thought and deed. Yet the majority of the Republican members of Congress seem oblivious to the worrisome trends. Just when it's most inopportune to play games, the Republican majority in the Senate has chosen to do just that. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), the most outspoken global-warming denier on Capitol Hill, could hardly contain his glee at the shock value of his announcement that he would co-sponsor a Democratic amendment asserting that climate change is real. Of course, Inhofe was not recanting. As he explained, climate change exists for sure, but it is the product of natural fluctuations, not human input. His contention that global warming is a hoax remained secure. All his Republican Senate colleagues (except one) joined in his charade, delighted to cast a vote for the obvious while retaining their skepticism to satisfy their political base of deniers.

Nonetheless, in response to some recent polls showing strong public support for addressing global warming, a handful of Republican senators went further out on a limb. They voted for a Democratic amendment stating that human use of fossil fuels produces carbon emissions that significantly contribute to climate change. But even these lawmakers stopped short of admitting to a sense of urgency and supporting any immediate remedial action.

Conflicted Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, personified the dilemma. On the one hand, she publicly conceded that climate change is real and humans contribute to it, yet on the other, she felt compelled to stridently champion expansion of oil and gas, the fossil fuels that scientists warn must be phased out in favor of clean, renewable energy if we are to avert climatic disaster.

Some Republican senators display no hesitation about their global-warming denial, confirming that they inhabit an alternate universe. A prime example is Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama). He maintains that in the short term, global warming is beneficial, and that since we don't have conclusive proof of the long-term impacts, it's more cost-effective to do nothing than to take corrective action.

One bit of hope. Republicans might back into doing the right thing if climate-change mitigation measures are couched in an economic rather than environmental framework. No-regrets strategies such as energy efficiency and reforestation are fiscally attractive and thus can appeal to Republicans, free of ideologically inflammatory politics that lead to legislative paralysis.

Still, directly confronting the climate-change challenge should bring a quicker resolution. It would be a savings in time that might be necessary for turning back the hands of the Doomsday Clock before it's too late.