Climate

Snowball’s Chance: James Inhofe, Meet The Press, And The Climate Debate

CREDIT: Comedy Central

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) brought a snowball onto the Senate floor to disprove global warming last Thursday. In the climate world, this was the viral equivalent of the seemingly gold-and-white dress that was actually black and blue. Except instead of dividing the world into two camps, the snowball brought universal ridicule to the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee. Cue Jon Stewart.

Even Republicans were horrified. “The weather is changing…. It’s terrible for the Republican Party to look like we can’t acknowledge reality,” said Nicolle Wallace, former George W. Bush communications chief and senior adviser for the McCain–Palin campaign. “But it is moronic to throw snow in the Capitol and say, I don’t know, I don’t think anything is changing.”

Actually, the ridicule of Inhofe was not universal on TV — and I’m not just referring to Fox News. Chuck Todd of NBC’s Meet The Press thought it was a “fun moment.” He teased his audience at the start of the show with an Inhofe clip, commenting (transcript here), “Proof that global warming is a hoax? Or just another example of show-and-tell Capitol Hill style.” Yes, those are the only two choices.

Todd introduced the clip of Inhofe’s moronic moment, “Senator Jim Inhofe used a fun little prop to make his point, apparently, on global warming, claiming it was a hoax this week.” Then, after playing it, he said, “Now, I’m not going to use that to get into a climate change debate.”

Seriously. We wouldn’t want a discussion of the actual science behind the gravest threat facing the audience to get in the way of some levity. Especially because “we lost Leonard Nimoy this week.” Irony can be so ironic: Nimoy’s iconic character, science officer Spock, would hardly appreciate the joke of dismissing overwhelming scientific evidence with an inane and irrelevant prop.

Meet the Press, “by endorsing a display of pure ignorance about an urgent issue of public policy as a ‘fun’ prank, cedes the last shred of its credibility,” Michael Hiltzik writes in the L.A. Times. “Ridiculing or minimizing climate change as a topic only wonks care about — or conniving with our least-informed political leaders to do so — is an abandonment of every principle ‘Meet the Press’ should stand for.”

And that brings me to The New Republic’s take, “Climate Denier James Inhofe Is a Godsend to Democrats in 2016.” They argue:

So every time the environmental chairman stands on the Senate floor, armed with props and delivering wacky speeches, he damages the GOP’s reputation as a whole….

If Inhofe keeps this act up, his colleagues with designs on the White House will have to decide whether to embrace or renounce him.

This might be true in a more rational world — say, Spock’s Vulcan. But for Inhofe to harm conservatives, we would need to have a media (and intelligentsia) who actually understood the existential nature of the climate threat — and we would need to have coherent and effective messaging by progressives (and environmentalists and scientists). We don’t have either.

Indeed, in the absence of a national media willing to consistently and loudly call balls and strikes — or call Inhofe’s snowball a moronic strike against reason — what Inhofe does won’t move the needle any more than it has in the past. For climate science deniers with designs on the White House to be held accountable for their views (or Inhofe’s), we’d need a media that actually pursues the question of climate change with the candidates on a routine basis, including national debates. So far, there’s been a snowball’s chance in hell of that happening — literally, in the case of Fox News.

And while progressive messaging on climate change is improving, slowly, it pales in comparison to either the sophistication or the scale of the messaging by the deniers.

As for scale, let’s remember that the multi-billionaire Koch brothers are planning to spend a staggering $889 million in the 2016 election cycle. You can manufacture a lot of doubt and blow a lot of smoke for that kind of money. Speaking of which, do catch the movie version of “Merchants of Doubt,” if you have any doubts left about … the effectiveness of the merchants of doubt.

The climate fight is winnable — but the win won’t come by waiting for the moronic nature of denial to suddenly become self-evident to all.