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The Coming GOP Civil War Over Climate Change: Reality And Demographics Are Battling The Kochs, Says National Journal

By Joe Romm  

"The Coming GOP Civil War Over Climate Change: Reality And Demographics Are Battling The Kochs, Says National Journal"

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The National Journal has a long piece out, “The Coming GOP Civil War Over Climate Change: Science, storms, and demographics are starting to change minds among the rank and file.”

Back in October 2010, NJ ran an article explaining, “The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones.”

Now reality is biting back, or, perhaps more accurately, nibbling back. The new piece begins with MIT climatologist Kerry Emanuel, a registered Republican since 1973. He switched his registration to “independent” shortly after a not-so-successful meeting with Republican presidential candidates in the run up to South Carolina’s GOP presidential primary, a meeting arranged by the influential Charleston-based Christian Coalition of America:

“The idea that you could look a huge amount of evidence straight in the face and, for purely ideological reasons, deny it, is anathema to me,” [Emanuel] says.

Emanuel predicts that many more voters like him, people who think of themselves as conservative or independent but are turned off by what they see as a willful denial of science and facts, will also abandon the GOP, unless the party comes to an honest reckoning about global warming.

Certainly recent polls (see here) make clear climate change is a political winner. It is a classic wedge issue that divides Tea Party extremists from independents and moderate/liberal Rebuplicans. NJ explains:

The problem is, as polling data and the changing demographics of the American electorate show, it’s likely that the position that can win voters in a primary will lose voters in a general election. Some day, though, the facts—both scientific and demographic—will force GOP candidates to confront climate change whether they want to or not. And that day will come sooner than they think….

“These polls show that there are a lot of people who are inclined to vote Republican—and believe America should respond to climate change,” says Edward Maibach, director of the George Mason program. “Republicans aren’t inclined to respond to it right now, but in the future, if they don’t take these issues seriously, they’re inclined to alienate a lot of Republican voters.”

As one of the leading experts on public opinion analysis in this area, Stanford’s Jon Krosnick, explained back in October, candidates “may actually enhance turnout as well as attract voters over to their side by discussing climate change.”

Some Republicans have started to figure this out, but that means taking on the Tea Party extremists and their well-funded pollutocrat backers like the Kochs:

And a quiet, but growing, number of other Republicans fear the same thing. Already, deep fissures are emerging between, on one side, a base of ideological voters and lawmakers with strong ties to powerful tea-party groups and super PACs funded by the fossil-fuel industry who see climate change as a false threat concocted by liberals to justify greater government control; and on the other side, a quiet group of moderates, younger voters, and leading conservative intellectuals who fear that if Republicans continue to dismiss or deny climate change, the party will become irrelevant.

“There is a divide within the party,” says Samuel Thernstrom, who served on President George W. Bush’s Council on Environmental Quality and is now a scholar of environmental policy at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. “The position that climate change is a hoax is untenable.

A concerted push has begun within the party—in conservative think tanks and grassroots groups, and even in backroom, off-the-record conversations on Capitol Hill—to persuade Republicans to acknowledge and address climate change in their own terms. The effort will surely add heat to the deep internal conflict in the years ahead.

The National Journal says some of the fossil fuel companies backing the right-wing deniers are changing their position:

It’s long been taken as a truism that the powerful oil lobby is the reason nothing happens on climate change in Washington. For many years, that was indeed true. In particular, Exxon Mobil, the nation’s largest oil company and a major contributor to Republican candidates, was associated with a campaign to fuel skepticism about climate science. From 1998 to 2006, Exxon Mobil contributed more than $600,000 to the Heartland Institute, a well-known nonprofit group that holds conferences and publishes books aimed at debunking the science of climate change. Exxon Mobil’s support of Heartland made sense. The oil company stood to take a financial hit from “cap-and-trade” climate-change proposals that would have priced carbon pollution from oil.

For a number of reasons, that equation is changing. Exxon Mobil has ended its support of Heartland’s agenda. It’s not that the oil giant has had a green awakening; it’s just that a series of internal changes have positioned the company to profit from at least some policies that price carbon emissions….

And the position on climate change at Exxon Mobil that once helped fund the Heartland conferences? “We have the same concerns about climate change as everyone. The risk of climate change exists; it’s caused by more carbon in the atmosphere; the risk is growing; and there’s broad scientific and policy consensus on this,” [company spokesman Alan] Jeffers says.

But even if Exxon Mobil were truly softening on the issue, which is a dubious proposition at best, the hardcore polluters have simply upped the ante.

After quoting Marco Rubio’s recent denialist statements — such as “When we point out that no matter how many job-killing laws we pass, our government can’t control the weather, [Obama] accuses us of wanting dirty water and dirty air” — NJ explains:

Rubio’s view is likely to remain the mainstream one in the party in the short term, thanks to tea-party groups such as Americans for Prosperity, a super PAC founded by David and Charles Koch, the principal owners of Koch Industries, a major U.S. oil conglomerate.

Over the last several years, Americans for Prosperity has spearheaded an all-fronts campaign using advertising, social media, and cross-country events aimed at electing lawmakers who will ensure that the fossil-fuel industry won’t have to worry about any new regulations. The group spent $36 million to influence the 2012 elections.

“We’ve been having this debate with the Left for 10 years, and we welcome having the debate with these new groups. If there are groups who want to do a niche effort with the Republican electorate, we’ll win that debate,” says the group’s president, Tim Phillips. He’s not worried that organizations such as Combs’s Christian Coalition or economists such as Laffer will influence lawmakers—because AFP would hit any such candidate with an all-out negative campaign. “Let them bring a carbon tax on. They know it’s political death for them to bring this forward on their own.”

So right now there is mostly a standoff for the GOP. The deniers can dominate the primaries with voters and fossil-fuel funding for the time being, but that denial hurts them in many statewide and national elections.

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39 Responses to The Coming GOP Civil War Over Climate Change: Reality And Demographics Are Battling The Kochs, Says National Journal

  1. Raul M. says:

    There are elements to the storms wrecking the oil rigs in the Gulf of Pollution that are harder to live with than to only think of on occasion, and going to the example of economics being a reasonable cause for change of subject from there being no such thing as climate change or it has happened before, we should find agreement with the oil industry that the worser storms are bad for business as usual for the fishers and the other industries in the Gulf. Storm shelters might be an improving industry, though, as even the housekeepers need to live through the storms.

  2. I fully agree with the you and the National Journal on this, except I don’t think that anything will happen until climate denial costs the GOP enough seats to make them lose control of the House of Representatives. I don’t see that happening very soon.

    I also don’t believe that the political talking heads will deal with this slant very soon either. Even that will require candidates to make global warming an issue and then for the polls to start showing it has had an effect. I’ve yet to see many Democrats start down this path with the possible exception of Markey in the MA Senate race.

    Finally, journalists have yet to deal with what it really means when the only truth to tell is that things are bad, that they are getting worse, and that nothings is being done about it. That is the question Journalism professor Robert Jensen tackles here: http://robertwilliamjensen.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/the-collapse-of-journalism-and-the-journalism-of-collapse-from-royal-to-prophetic-to-apocalyptic/

    It all shows that we understand what needs to be done, why it needs to be done but have not yet pushed the magic buttons at the ballot box to get it done.

    • Jim B says:

      And their ability to gerrymander themselves in is going to go on for some time to come. Then we will be faced with a GOP that cannot win a general presidential election but yet retains control of the legislature. And what will happen is what has been happening now — not much of anything.

      This is exactly what the real bosses want so they can make as much money as they possibly can for as long as they can before they are forced to change.

      This is time, as we all know, that we don’t have.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      The MSM is entirely owned by the moneyed elite for whom the tens of trillions in fossil fuel assets is their most ‘precious’. So the Rightwing Western MSM will never cease being denialists, either flagrant, or subtle and insidious. Waiting for the MSM to do the right thing is more futile than waiting for Godot.

  3. Joan Savage says:

    A climate change by any other name is still a climate change.
    We could see cracks in the political wall as emergency response and economic recovery become urgent for more constituencies. But, how many ‘red’ majority states must suffer before the conversation breaks through?

  4. fj says:

    My meager knowlege of history gives faint murmurs of political similarities between now and the period before Pearl Harbor and FDR’s ramp up to fight WWII.

    • Dennis Tomlinson says:

      “…the period before Pearl Harbor and FDR’s ramp up to fight WWII.”

      Some similarities, for sure. But I would have equated the current climate more to the period before the sinking of the Lusitania, the Zimmerman Letter, and Wilson’s ramp up to fight WWI – Lend/Lease being equated with the EPA and other administration half-measures.

      Before Pearl Harbor we were exporting pig iron to Japan (model-T’s & the like) which they then converted to munitions (bombs & such dropped on China, Manchuria, New Guinea, and SE Asia).

      Either way…

    • Dennis Tomlinson says:

      Correction: Lend/Lease was an FDR program. Wilson’s was credit to (mainly) England and France for the purchase of munitions from US, while publicly telling Americans to “remain neutral in thought as well as deed.”

  5. Lou Grinzo says:

    Even more so than in the population at large, I think CC represents a classic tipping point for the GOP mindset. They will ferociously cling to denial, getting ever more ridiculous and more shrill until the moment they split on the issue. It might be a two-way split, or it might be more. I could easily imagine them fracturing (fracking?) themselves into one camp that sticks with hard core denial, one that goes with “it’s real and we have to do a little about it, but nothing too expensive or drastic”, and one that says, “it’s real and serious and we have to take swift action, even if it means siding with Team Blue on this one issue”. I would expect the percentages in that three-way split to be something like 30, 60, and 10.

    My prediction for some time has been that the 2016 presidential election will be Christie vs. Cuomo, and the Republican primaries will be the battleground where the split over CC starts to take shape. Or so a climate realist can dream…

    • fj says:

      Things better flip way before the next election . . . like right now.

      President so totally incompetent?

      If he is unable to act on climate change at wartime speed he must step down.

      We have a real crisis.

      Ibama is supposed

      • fj says:

        That is the job description.

        The guy in charge is supposed to take charge in time of crisis and President Obams he is not doing that.

        Let Biden do what us right and veto Keystone XL

        And, start slowing accelerating climate change at wartime speed.

        And, Obama can be Vice Ptesident.

  6. M Tucker says:

    Since the demographic make up for the Republican Party is mostly white men they will have to do a lot of changing to attract minorities. If minorities think Republicans are basically racist and demonize immigration and refuse to allow undocumented immigrants to become citizens then Republicans will remain mostly white men.

    Polls might show that “climate change is a political winner” but it has not been used much in ANY campaign. Didn’t come up once in the special election in SC. Generally candidates seem reluctant to make the climate change distinction. When I look at polls of the most important issues climate change is nowhere near the top. Some polls have no mention of climate change specifically or environment in general.

    I do see a recruiting problem in the Republican Party but it has to do with rejecting, insulting and ignoring minorities, women, the working class, college students and the issues they care about. Climate change is not high on the issue list with most of them. This recruiting problem is causing the crisis in the Party. It is also why independents have not swung over to vote for them in general elections.

    As for Emanuel, I read the NJ article, I wish he hadn’t tried to remember why he became a Republican or I wish he had come up with a different justification. I like scientists to stick with science. From the NJ article:
    “Kerry Emanuel registered as a Republican as soon he turned 18, in 1973. The aspiring scientist was turned off by what he saw as the Left’s blind ideology. “I had friends who denied Pol Pot was killing people in Cambodia,” he says. “I reacted very badly to the triumph of ideology over reason.” (Maybe NJ got it wrong. Maybe this quote isn’t really referring to 1973 but…)

    So it was friends and not the actual politics or history that turned you off on the Left? Well even if NJ linked up one of your quotes to the wrong year let’s just have a look at 1973 from a Republican politics pov. 1973 was Nixon’s last full year as President. Inaugurated in January, the Saturday Night Massacre (you remember don’t you Kerry, it was about those inconvenient tapes) in October, gone by August of 1974, hello Ford and that full pardon. Wait, why didn’t Agnew become President after Nixon? OH yeah…I remember now. Pol Pot didn’t start overtly killing people until a few years later.

    Facts and history are a good thing right Kerry? When you have a triumph of ideology over reason, a triumph of ideology over the rule of law, a triumph of ideology over morality…that will always come back to bit you on the ass. Except the full pardon thing. Yeah Republicans!

  7. Merrelyn Emery says:

    And the whispers spread across the land. Thse changes start underground and by the time they hit the light of day, it’s all over bar the shouting. Even Lou’s 3-way split is a short term proposition as the consensus becomes overwhelming, ME

  8. Jeff Huggins says:

    Two New Heights

    Today saw two new “heights” of very different sorts, but the coincidence ought to make us pause to think: on the same day that we were told about atmospheric CO2 exceeding 400 ppm (on the basis of the daily average), the spire was placed atop the ‘Freedom Tower’, making it the “tallest building in the Western Hemisphere”, reportedly. We can apparently build tall buildings but can’t bring ourselves to face up to, and address, our immense (and human-caused) problem.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      The so-called ‘Freedom Tower’, (boy has that poor word been abused!)will be a couple of hundred feet less above sea-level, soon.

    • Merrelyn Emery says:

      You might have a ‘Freedom Tower’ but you don’t have freedom. What is practiced in the USA is laissez-faire, until the crackdown of course, ME

  9. Ken Barrows says:

    Psst. The Democrat/Republican talk is worthless. 535 Ed Markeys in Congress isn’t going to give you policies that will turn the tide much.

    Democrats of all stripes want growth; they want more cars (although more benign ones). As long as Dems talk growth and corporate globalization, not much happens.

    • Stephanie L says:

      It’s ridiculous to think we wouldn’t want growth, bro… that’s how people survive, by gaining resources. What we WANT is to do this sustainably, and not have technology blocked for the profit of the status quo, and to have research. What’s wrong with that?

      • fj says:

        . . . better known as dinosaurus amongus

      • Ken Barrows says:

        Earth no likely, that’s what is wrong with that.

        • Ken Barrows says:

          Earth no likey. And if Earth doesn’t like it, we’ll be taken care of in an unpleasant way.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        There is no such thing as ‘sustainable growth’. In any case all the growth over the last forty years, the most ecologically destructive in human history, has produced wealth that has gone to the top 1% or so. The other 99% of humanity have gone backwards,(with the exception of China and one or two other states) and that regression is accelerating. The planet contains enough wealth for a decent life for all, without further destruction, but 90% plus of that money is controlled by the worst individuals amongst us, who not only refuse to share with others, but are ferociously determined to accumulate more and more, being mortally ill with the malady of insatiable greed. We need redistribution, fairness, justice, equality not greed, inequality and destruction.

  10. MorinMoss says:

    Even if GOP attitudes cost them seats and prevent them from taking the Oval Office, between staunch Red states, radical gerrymandering and needing 60 votes in the Senate for anything to pass, we can lose years or decades that the world can not afford.

  11. Camburn says:

    This is not a Republican/Democrat issue. This is an issue of inflated consequences. Dry bulb temperatures have not increased for 17 years. Hurricane intensity has not increased just as Dr Grey forecast. This is confirmed via the ACE measurement. RSS indicates an eben longer period of flat temps. Jet stream patterns are demonstrating the sun’s influence on weather patterns via the strength of varying UV levels. There are even more established climate influences. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, however, it is becoming more apparent that it is not a major ddriver of climate

    • Camburn,

      Your grasp of climate science is minimal and inaccurate. Please become much better informed about the issues before wasting your time and that of the other readers of this blog.

    • Stephanie L says:

      camburn… is it just that you are terrified? A CHILD can tell you how CO2 heats the atmosphere, and how ADDING MORE OF IT makes things hotter….

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      ‘Mr Incorrect, Non-factual and Unsupported’ returns. One wonders what odd psychological rewards he garners from broadcasting his insufficiencies?

    • kermit says:

      This is not a Republican/Democrat issue.
      Surface temps have certainly increased; the hottest dozen years on record have been in the past 15 years, and we are now somewhere around 340 months in a row over the twentieth century average.

      Storm intensity is increasing.

      The sun is at a 100 year minimum; it’s effects would have been to continue sending us slowly into another ice age, but the effects of natural cycles have been swamped by human activities, notably greenhouse gases.

      And if CO2 were becoming less of a driver it would be from the increasing effects of methane from thawing methane clathrates, reduced albedo, and other processes we have started.

  12. Camburn says:

    I understand climate very well. I am also not alarmed with this understanding. Am I afraid? Not at all. I watch the increased bio mass, the increased Ag production with satisfaction and and realize how much mankind has benefited from this. The planet is greening as a result of higher CO2 levels. There is great hope that economies will expand to overcome the current high levels of govt debt, that the population will continue to enjoy the surge of Ag production etc. How can one be negative when you observe the potential that unfolds before us?

    • Dennis Tomlinson says:

      “increase in biomass” = a nit. The mere fact that CO2 levels continue to increase is proof that photosynthesis lags emissions by several gigatonnes/year.

      “Increase in Ag production” = a nit compared to the shrinkage of the world’s reserves and increasing third world starvation.

      “hope of economies expanding” = the old exponential growth with finite resources argument. We’re at or near peak this, peak that, and peak the other. Try peeking as some science.

      Did you know that the speed of light through a medium with a dielectric constant of 2.22087000 is precisely 1.00000000 femto-furlongs/fortnight? An alliteration? Yes. Useful? No, but at least it’s accurate.

      • Dennis Tomlinson says:

        Unit correction (before someone uses it in a calculation):
        c = 1.00000000 nano-furlongs/femtosecond
        Less alliterative, still not useful, hopefully more accurate.

        I used to work for a company whom I will not name, but because of their logo is known euphemistically as the Circle-M Ranch. Their unofficial motto was: “There’s never time to do it right the first time, but there’s always time to do it over”. Decades later I still find myself afflicted by this “butt-before-brain race to the finish” meme.

      • Chris Winter says:

        “Try peeking as some science.”

        Nicely put. The suggestion might pique Canburn’s interest; but more likely he’ll experience a feeling of pique.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        A cornutopian troll, his Panglossian optimism is probably a facade, like whistling past the graveyard, to mask his mortal terror. Or he is just another insufficient.

    • Chris Winter says:

      How can one be negative about prospects for agriculture?

      One way is to learn about the temperature sensitivity of certain crops, like rice that will not germinate when the temperature is above 35-40°C.

      Another is to look at these graphs, which show per-capita production of cereal grains dropping even as more pesticides and fertilizers are used.

      http://www.grida.no/graphicslib/detail/agricultural-trends-production-fertilisers-irrigation-and-pesticides_8241

      • Raul M. says:

        Oh, where did I read it?
        Ummm, UV rays and abundant nitrogen affecting crop production.
        Sorry for such a poor reference to the science.

        • Raul M. says:

          Science showing that providing abundant nitrogen to the field has opposite effect on crop production when in conjunction with high UV rays. Study is of the various ways UV rays affect plants and resultant crop production. Rising UV levels may change the standard of when and how much to fertilize. Less is better?

      • Merrelyn Emery says:

        Chris, the problem is multifactorial, declining soil productivity, unpredictable hail storms, frosts, flash floods, heatwaves, insect plagues and moulds etc, ME

  13. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Reality and demographics have joined forces. That is what all the green-environment-climate-peace-union activists should be doing, ME