It’s a Through-The-Looking-Glass world. The Washington Post reports Sunday that ExxonMobil has a far saner view of global warming than the national Republican party.
Fred Hiatt, the paper’s centrist editorial page editor, drops this bombshell:
With no government action, Exxon experts told us during a visit to The Post last week, average temperatures are likely to rise by a catastrophic (my word, not theirs) 5 degrees Celsius, with rises of 6, 7 or even more quite possible.
This is indeed basic climate science.
Of course, thanks to excellent reporting by InsideClimate News, we now know ExxonMobil had been told by its own scientists in the 1970s and 1980s that climate change was human-caused and would reach catastrophic levels without reductions in carbon emissions. Yes, this is same ExxonMobil that then became the largest funder of disinformation on climate science and attacks on climate scientists until they were surpassed by the Koch Brothers in recent years — but that is a different (tragic) story.
Hiatt’s point is to show “how dangerously extreme the Republican Party has become on climate change,” and that that “Republicans’ ideologically based denial is dangerous and cowardly.” After all, the oil giant ain’t Greenpeace.
Yet unlike the national GOP leadership and its presidential candidates, “the company believes climate change is real, that governments should take action to combat it and that the most sensible action would be a revenue-neutral tax on carbon,” that taxes fossil fuels like coal and oil and returns the money to taxpayers.
What is the reason for “the know-nothingism of today’s Republicans”? Hiatt offers a partial explanation: “Some of them see scientists as part of a left-wing cabal; many of them doubt government’s ability to do anything, let alone something as big as redirecting the economy’s energy use.”
But he misses a key element — namely the deafening echo chamber of the right wing’s media and think tanks. As David Brooks — who is often, but not always, part of that echo chamber — explained last week, on the climate change issue:
[T]he G.O.P. has come to resemble a Soviet dictatorship — a vast majority of Republican politicians can’t publicly say what they know about the truth of climate change because they’re afraid the thought police will knock on their door and drag them off to an AM radio interrogation.
Yes, the GOP’s science denial is so extreme that a major conservative columnist has called out the right wing’s “thought police.” Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman used Brooks’ line — and the Paris climate talks — as a launching point for a must-read piece, “Republicans’ Climate Change Denial Denial” Friday.
As Krugman explains,”the talks could mark a turning point” toward “the kind of international action needed to avert catastrophe.” But he adds: “Then again, they might not; we may be doomed. And if we are, you know who will be responsible: the Republican Party.”
Krugman’s statement appears “partisan … but what I said is, in fact, the obvious truth. And the inability of our news media, our pundits and our political establishment in general to face up to that truth is an important contributing factor to the danger we face.”
Krugman links to an important journal article from August, “More than Markets: A Comparative Study of Nine Conservative Parties on Climate Change.” This study found that “Although conservative parties are portrayed as skeptical toward adopting climate measures or even supposed to ignore climate change … most of them support climate measures, even in the form of state interventions in the market economy.” Two core conclusions: “A clear finding is that available fossil reserves seem to have an influence on conservative climate politics. The U.S. Republican Party is an anomaly in denying anthropogenic climate change.”
Because of the unique nature of GOP climate change denial, Krugman warns of “the denial inherent in the conventions of political journalism, which say that you must always portray the parties as symmetric — that any report on extreme positions taken by one side must be framed in a way that makes it sound as if both sides do it.”
While this is commonplace on issues like the budget, where it ends up hurting the U.S. economy, the stakes are much higher on the climate issue:
I’d urge everyone outside the climate-denial bubble to frankly acknowledge the awesome, terrifying reality. We’re looking at a party that has turned its back on science at a time when doing so puts the very future of civilization at risk. That’s the truth, and it needs to be faced head-on.
This post has been updated.