Rep. Barton and other science deniers say the only way to stop a global pandemic is if everyone does nothing

“Don’t confuse my opposition to excessive regulation with a desire for inaction.  We don’t need an international treaty with rules and regulations that will handcuff the American economy or our ability to make our environment cleaner, safer and healthier.”

“Words that Work” from GOP messaging guru Frank Luntz, in his 2002 memo on talking points for conservatives on how to undermine support for strong U.S. climate action.

Global warming deniers like Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) have long opposed U.S. participation in collective international action on global warming.  And yet they have the chutzpah to now offer this absurd argument for why this country should do nothing to prevent catastrophic global warming:  If we act by ourselves, it won’t solve the problem!

By way of debunking this, let me start by using a timely analogy.

Imagine if a serious global pandemic started spreading from, say, the United States, to the rest of the world.  Now imagine that the Centers for Disease Control proposed taking strong action to stop and reverse the spread of the pandemic in this country — action that would have a low cost but immediate benefits for all Americans — at the same time that the rest of the world was also in the early stages of designing their own action strategies, strategies that were contingent on the U.S. acting.

Now imagine an analysis saying that if the U.S. acted all by itself, the pandemic would still ravage the planet published by a website associated with a right-wing think tank directly supported by a company that benefits from inaction on the pandemic (let’s call it, Exxon-Immobile) — and run by a man who once worked directly for a corrupt CEO who was “convicted on fraud and conspiracy charges.”

Now imagine that analysis being advanced by a senior conservative member of Congress who has publicly stated that he thinks global pandemics are purely natural and benign occurrences, who opposes both U.S. and international action, who believes that people should just “bundle up” and “cover their mouth” as a response (“Rep. Barton: Climate change is ‘natural,’ humans should just ‘get shade’ “).

Oh, heck, don’t have to imagine it at all — it’s all true.  Here is the Dear Colleague letter Barton just sent out:

I would like to draw your attention to a recent analysis of the actual climate benefits of Waxman-Markey. According to the analysis, should the American people be forced to accept the crippling emission reduction requirement of 83 percent by 2050, our citizens and people around the world can expect to see a reduction in the projected 2050 temperature of approximately nine hundredths, or 0.09, of a degree. Putting aside momentarily the vigorous debate about the reliability of IPCC’s predictions, as well as the fact that the Earth has actually been cooling for the last 7 or 8 years, this does not seem like much of a benefit. ! In exchange, the American people will be forced to pay the Federal Government hundreds of billions of dollars. Given the huge price tag for the taxpayer, the cost to our economy, and the negligible effects on the climate, it’s hard to imagine Waxman-Markey can stand up to any cost-benefit analysis.

First off, it is just absurd to claim that “the Earth has actually been cooling for the last 7 or 8 years” when the 2010s will easily be the hottest decade on record (see “Very warm 2008 makes this the hottest decade in recorded history by far“).  Also, the warmest year on record was 2005, according to the U.S. temperature dataset that best measures total planetary warming, the one from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (see here)

Second, the cost to the economy and the taxpayer is very low according to every independent study (see “Intro to climate economics: Why even strong climate action has such a low total cost — one tenth of a penny on the dollar” and EPA Analysis of Waxman-Markey: “Returning the revenues in [a lump-sum rebate] could make the median household, and those living at lower ends of the income distribution, better off than they would be without the program”).  And strong climate action could actually have immediate benefits for our economy according to one of the nation’s top economists (see Nobelist Krugman attacks “junk economics”: Climate action “now might actually help the economy recover from its current slump” by giving “businesses a reason to invest in new equipment and facilities”).  And that is entirely separate from the crucial need for comprehensive energy and climate legislation like Waxman-Markey to restore US leadership in clean energy through , which will be one of the biggest job-creating industries in the world in the coming decades.

Finally, of course, we have the “analysis” that says if the United States acts alone, we can’t solve the global warming problem.  Well, duh.  In fact, all of the other developed countries committed more than a decade ago to restrict their emissions — and they have been begging us to take some action for many, many years.  It is, needless to say, inconceivable that other nations are going to take more action until the richest country in the world — the one that would be greatest amount of cumulative emissions by far — starts to clean up its act.

And it is the height of hypocrisy for Rep. Barton and other global warming deniers — who have long opposed US participation in international climate negotiations and who fought feverishly to block any effort to achieve a concerted global response to climate — to say the U.S. should not take a leadership role on what is certainly gravest preventable existential threat to the health and well-being of Americans (see “Yes, the science says on our current emissions path we are projected to warm most of U.S. 10 – 15°F by 2100, with sea level rise of 5 feet or more, and the SW will be a permanent Dust Bowl” and “An introduction to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water.“)

I see no reason to debunk the original “analysis” by Chip “don’t just stand there, do nothing” Knappenberger, except to point out that it was published on the obscure blog Master Resource (here) after being touted by Swift Boat smearer Marc Morano.  That blog is essentially a creature of the Institute for Energy Research (IER), which “has received $307,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998” and which is closely allied with a fossil-fuel front group that is it spreading disinformation about Waxman-Markey (see “Mysterious industry front-group affiliated with Ken Lay’s former speechwriter launches anti-Waxman-Markey ads with phony MIT cost figures“).

The editor of Master Resource is senior research fellow at IER.  And the person atop the blogger list on the “About” page is our old friend Robert Bradley, CEO and founder of IER, “who previously served as Director of Public Policy Analysis at Enron, where he was a speechwriter for CEO Kenneth Lay,” who was “convicted on fraud and conspiracy charges on May 25, 2006.

You don’t need to be an epidemiologist to follow the disease vector from ExxonMobil to Marc Morano to Joe Barton.

Let’s just hope everyone else doesn’t get infected with their thinking.

10 Responses to Rep. Barton and other science deniers say the only way to stop a global pandemic is if everyone does nothing

  1. NFJM says:

    Funny, this is just what I heard last week from Exxon Mobile…

    For them, even market run by private investors are “central planning like the Soviet Union”. Off course they do not mind when the central planning is in the form of governmental subsidies to their sector (tens of billions) or when it is in the form of the US army securing their supply routes.

  2. Aaron says:

    I know this is normal for politicians, but I still have a hard time stomaching when politicians out and out lie about something as severely crucial as AGW and get away with it. I liked the analogy too Joe.

  3. Phil Eisner says:

    Rep. Barton and other “deniers” are not going to read your blog or my comments. They are just making sure they will get elected by securing money from the oil, gas, and coal industries and by seducing their ignorant constituents with lies.
    The only way to get good political action to reduce CO2 emissions is to elect new, better representatives and senators.

  4. Lewis says:

    Few problems are ever solved by a policy of inaction.

  5. Tim R. says:

    Barton Logic: No scientist can tell me which particular cigarette will cause lung cancer. Therefore, no scientist can tell me that this particular cigarette will cause lung cancer. Therefore, please give me a light and two cartons of the Marlboro no filters, please. If I don’t buy these cigarettes, that is going to hurt the economy.

  6. Mark Shapiro says:


    Exxonmobil has no “e” on the end.

    It also has no morality at either end. Alas, we can’t fix that.

  7. Sam says:


    I don’t quite get this attitude of “support WM it’s the only game in town”.

    Isn’t it our duty to make the bill into something that actually works? Isn’t the public debate important? It’s just the tip of the iceberg for what’s going to come.

    Their bill won’t have the political legs to pass or to last–AG Chair Peterson came out against it yesterday. We should be moving a bill in line with Obama’s call to auction 100% of the permits & return most of the revenue to public.

    [JR: I’m all in favor of people pushing and prodding to improve W-M, or, more likely, to stop it from being weakened. I’m all against people saying that those who are trying to do that are “worshiping at the Temple of Doom.

    I try to push political realism here along with the climate science realism — it ain’t easy, I know. But I do feel under some obligation to inform my readers that efforts to promote some wholly different approach are probably a waste of time, at least for now, but in any case, if you do so, PLEASE don’t devote a lot of effort to trashing the one serious chance we have at energy and climate legislation for the foreseeable future.

    This bill will pass. Take it to the bank. Yes, you are going to hear a lot of posturing from people who want things from this bill. If this were a “simple carbon tax” bill, you would hear the exact same posturing. Take it with a grain of salt.]

  8. ecostew says:

    Yes, a bill will pass, and the Obama administration must continue to move forward on mitigating AGW.

  9. Astralis says:

    Dismissing opinions because someone might be connected somehow to an energy company is as dubious as dismissing alarmist opinions of someone connected to cap-and-trade trading companies or windmill factories.

    Stick with the facts instead.

  10. Kevin says:

    “First off, it is just absurd to claim that “the Earth has actually been cooling for the last 7 or 8 years”…..perhaps you haven’t read the data from the UK Meteorological Office’s Hadley Center for Climate Studies as well as two other widely used global temperature data sources – earth-orbiting satellites UAH (University of Alabama at Huntsville) and RSS (Remote Sensing Systems.) All three show decreasing temperatures over the last decade, with present temperatures barely above the 30 year average. I understand your desire to dismiss Rep. barton because of your idealogical disagreements with him, and I’m sure you will just as easily dismiss these temperature data sources since they disagree with your predetermined conclusion. Perhaps the real “deniers” are those unwilling to consider that man’s contribution to Global Warming may not be significant enough to influence what is happening.