Characterized as the moral issue of our time, climate change not only poses significant risks to the environment but represents an opportunity to adapt and re-energize the economy through investment in clean energy technology. As the National Academies of Science notes, “the U.S. should act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and develop a national strategy to adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change.”
Despite the overwhelming evidence and need to address its “inevitable impacts,” a huge contingent of the newly-empowered GOP members of Congress do not believe in climate change to begin with. A survey by the Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson finds that a member of Congress from nearly every state in the union — the so-called “Climate Zombie Caucus” — explicitly reject the threat of man-made global warming. Of the incoming freshmen, 36 of 85 in the House and 11 of 13 in the Senate have publicly questioned the science and “there are no freshman Republicans, in the House or Senate, who publicly accept the scientific consensus that greenhouse pollution is an immediate threat,” Johnson found.
But this iron wall of denial does not sit well with all conservatives. In a Washington Post op-ed yesterday, former Republican Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (NY) articulated his confusion as to why “so many Republican senators and representatives think they are right and the world’s top scientific academies and scientists are wrong.” Allowing for debate over policy, Boehlert said he finds the GOP’s “dogged determination” to deny the actual science “incomprehensible”:
Watching the raft of newly elected GOP lawmakers converge on Washington, I couldn’t help thinking about an issue I hope our party will better address. I call on my fellow Republicans to open their minds to rethinking what has largely become our party’s line: denying that climate change and global warming are occurring and that they are largely due to human activities.[…]
Why do so many Republican senators and representatives think they are right and the world’s top scientific academies and scientists are wrong? I would like to be able to chalk it up to lack of information or misinformation.
I can understand arguments over proposed policy approaches to climate change. I served in Congress for 24 years. I know these are legitimate areas for debate. What I find incomprehensible is the dogged determination by some to discredit distinguished scientists and their findings.[…]
There is a natural aversion to more government regulation. But that should be included in the debate about how to respond to climate change, not as an excuse to deny the problem’s existence. The current practice of disparaging the science and the scientists only clouds our understanding and delays a solution.
While normally walking lockstep with this crowd, the GOP is rebuking the approach of “leaders of some of our nation’s most prominent businesses,” says Boehlert. The U.S. Climate Action Partnership, for example, is “no collection of mom-and-pop shops operated by ‘tree huggers'” but rather a group of “hard-nosed, profit-driven capitalists” like General Electric, Duke Energy, and DuPont pushing Congress to see climate change as an opportunity to “create more economic opportunities than risks for the U.S. economy.” “My fellow Republicans should understand that wholesale, ideologically based or special-interest-driven rejection of science is bad policy,” he said.
To former Republican Rep. Joe Scarborough (FL), its more than bad policy, “it’s embarrassing.” In a thorough roundtable discussion with Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) on the “huge ideological tension” over climate change, MSNBC’s conservative host bemoaned the U.S.’s woeful standing in clean energy production that could “transform our economy.” Kerry, the leading lawmaker on climate change legislation, agreed that Congress’s failure was both “embarrassing” and “ridiculous.” Noting that “Republicans have made an art form out of calling everything a tax and running against it,” Kerry said, telling Scarborough why there’s little hope for improvement: “Too many of the people who’ve come into the Congress on the other side, all they want to do is cut. They’re not talking about investing in America. And if all we do is come down here and focus on the deficit without focusing on future investment, the United States is going to fall farther behind.”
Watch it (starting at 3:00):