Opinion: GOP in denial on climate change

June 4, 2014


It is irreversible now.

There’s a word that should get everybody’s attention. Last month, two groups of scientists, publishing separately in the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters, issued reports that came to alarmingly similar conclusions: The melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet has reached a point of no return. If greenhouse gases stopped spewing forth tomorrow, we’d still face the grim prospect of steadily rising seas from this unstoppable melt.

So it would be a good idea to save what ice we still can. Or else condemn our grandchildren to vie for beachfront property in St. Louis on a planet of shrinking land, diminishing resources, and growing population.

This week, thankfully, the Obama administration — once noteworthy chiefly for its disinterested torpor where climate change is concerned — proposed politically risky new Environmental Protection Agency standards requiring deep cuts in carbon pollution levels at U.S. power plants by 2030. And the opposition party? Their attitude is summed up by the headline of a recent story on Politico: “Republicans on climate science: Don’t ask us.”

Writer Darren Goode reports that the GOP has adopted a new global warming “talking point.” Which is that they are not equipped to talk about it. As in Speaker John Boehner telling reporters, “Listen, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change.” And Florida Gov. Rick Scott demurring that, “I am not a scientist.” And a spokeswoman for the billionaire Koch brothers, the deep pockets of the right wing, saying, “We are not experts on climate change.”

The gutlessness, disingenuousness and sheer cynicism of this new tack are difficult to overstate.

For the record, most of us are not experts on climate science. But most of us have the good sense to listen to those who are.

The right, however, prefers to pretend there is some sort of “debate” in the scientific community over whether human activity is raising the temperature of our one and only planet. There isn’t. Indeed, that finding is accepted by 97 percent of climate scientists. This, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science that, with 121,000 members, is the world’s largest general science group.

So the GOP’s “debate” is three scientists out of a hundred. Heck, you could probably find three scientists out of a hundred who think smoking is good for you.

Our planet is at a point of crisis. The ice is melting, the sea levels are rising, the oceans are acidifying, drought patterns are changing, precipitation is increasing, extreme weather is growing ever more common. Yet for Boehner, the salient issue is that “every proposal that has come out of this administration to deal with climate change involves hurting our economy and killing American jobs.”

Not to be glib about unemployment and recession, but if asked to choose between dinging the U.S. economy and killing the planet on which that economy depends — assuming that were even a real choice — it’s hard to imagine most of us would prioritize the former. And if the Democrats’ ideas are so bad, fine. Where are the Republican proposals? As was the case with health care, why are they once again late in their discovery of a critical problem and bereft of serious solutions therefor?

Here is an idea. The two parties should work together as if they were composed of adults to find a way to save our planet. Instead, the GOP is buck passing with an eye on the midterms. Ninety-seven percent of experts say we don’t have time for these shenanigans, yet Boehner and company pretend there’s still some kind of “debate” going on. Ninety-seven percent.

Maybe the GOP isn’t good at science, but surely they understand basic math.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


Larry Sturm 3 years, 10 months ago

The only figures the GOP understands is money in their in their pockets from the lobbyists.

Bob Smith 3 years, 10 months ago

What does “Daniel B. Botkin, a world-renowned ecologist, is Professor (Emeritus), Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, UC Santa Barbara, and President of The Center for The Study of The Environment, which provides independent, science-based analyses of complex environmental issues. The New York Times said his book, Discordant Harmonies: A New Ecology for the 21st Century is considered by many ecologists to be the classic text of the [environmental] movement.” His Environmental Science, now in its Sixth Edition, was named 2004′s best textbook by the Textbook and Academic Authors Association.”... have to say on the issue? http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/05/31/in-house-testimony-botkin-dismantles-the-ipcc-2014-report/

Chris Golledge 3 years, 10 months ago

When Watts resolves the opposing facts that his own research indicates no difference in rate of warming between well-sited weather stations and poorly-sited ones, and his web-site statements that the observed warming is mainly a result of poorly sited stations, I'll be more interested what he posts on his web site.

Julius Nolan 3 years, 10 months ago

Would you compare and show us your credentials along with his so we can evaluate your claims vs his facts?

Ken Lassman 3 years, 10 months ago

Why look at Chris' credentials when you can look at what renowned computational chemist and published scientist in the field of climatology David Archer says about Daniel Botkins' assertions? Botkin has been spouting things like this for years and he's saying nothing new today--the critiques from 2007 still hold: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/10/global-warming-delusions-at-the-wall-street-journal/#more-486

Chris Golledge 3 years, 10 months ago

Who cares about my credentials? Here are his facts:

"We observed that changes in the technology of temperature stations over time also has caused them to report a false warming trend." -Anthony Watts, SurfaceStations.org

"...the overall mean temperature trends are nearly identical across site classifications. " -Anthony Watts, co-author, research paper. "Analysis of the impacts of station exposure on the U.S. Historical Climatology Network temperatures and temperature trends"

Chris Golledge 3 years, 10 months ago

And then there is this on the BEST study:

"I’m prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong. " -Anthony Watts http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/03/06/briggs-on-berkeleys-best-plus-my-thoughts-from-my-visit-there/

"Muller’s study attempts to correct for the quality of the data, in a transparent, repeatable fashion scientists should appreciate. Much of that data should be simply thrown out, Watts said." http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2012/07/30/weather-station-temp-claims-are-overheated-report-claims/

He's going to have to achieve some consistency with himself before I take him seriously.

Maybe you'd like to compare Watts' high school diploma with Muller's doctorate and vita?

Richard Heckler 3 years, 10 months ago

If it were not for taxpayers being forced to guarantee construction costs and act as the liability insurance for the Coal and Nuke power industries I am confident these industries would no longer be in business.

In the 80's a moratorium on any new nuke power took place because Wall Street rendered them a huge risk and would not stand by Nuke power as a reliable investment. Now that taxpayers have been forced to back them investors are licking their chops.

The moratorium was driven by green thinkers only it was green dollar bills not any love for the environment. Still it did put a smile on my face.

Food for thought….

Chris Golledge 3 years, 10 months ago

I think it is important not to separate ourselves into Democrat and Republican tribes. The physical reality in which we are living presents us with a problem that is not affected by party affiliations.

Chris Golledge 3 years, 10 months ago

I think one fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals don't like things to stagnate, and conservatives don't like disruptive changes. These are natural biases and there's nothing wrong with them, but I think it plays into the difference in climate change belief that we see between the parties.

3 years, 10 months ago

There isn't a conservative out there who has lost his/her house or car or work place, do to climate change, that doesn't understand the increasingly disruptive nature of climate change. People who tend not to adapt to life's continual developments on a daily basis, it has also been said... are slow in the head. That's why you want liberals running things...otherwise it just plain gets too dangerous.

Larry Sturm 3 years, 10 months ago

The GOP are obstructionists they are not interested in solutions.

Cait McKnelly 3 years, 10 months ago

The House Science Committee Declares The IPCC Report Is Not Science
The hubris of these people is beyond comprehension. Just as legislators think that they can regulate and legislate female biology; just as they think they can regulate and legislate away the effects of fracking and tar sands, they apparently think they can regulate and legislate away the effects of climate change.
(By the way, Michele Bachmann is on the House Science Committee. Yes. For real.)

Bob Smith 3 years, 10 months ago

Das Pittster is getting ever more hysterical as he goes along.

Kevin Elliott 3 years, 10 months ago

The GOP is not in denial, they are just plain out and out liars on this issue.

Ken Lassman 3 years, 10 months ago

Fact check time (note that I'm providing references/links): --research indicates that while hurricane frequency may not be changing all that much and might even fall, the intensity is increasing, with nearby rainfall predicted to increase up to 20% and intensity increase up to 10% by 2100:http://nrc.noaa.gov/sites/nrc/Documents/SoS%20Fact%20Sheets/SoS_Fact_Sheet_Hurricanes_and_Climate_FINAL_May2012.pdf

-It's true that there are statistically speaking no increase in the number of strong tornadoes in the US. It is also true that there has been an increase in extreme precipitation events over land globally, that there has been an increase in extreme droughts and extreme flooding events over land globally: http://www.wunderground.com/climate/extreme.asp and in direct contradiction to your drought frequency statement: http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2012/20120811_DiceDataDiscussion.pdf

-the National Climate Data Center reports that January sea ice extent has been dropping 1.4% per decade: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global-snow/2014/1

-regarding global mean temperatures, you of course are excluding ocean temps, which not only continue to rise, they also contain 90% of the heat absorbed on the planet: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/indicators/oceans/ocean-heat.html

Energy use is not correlated with life expectancy, literacy, education and prosperity nearly as much as you claim, as evidenced by the fact that Germany and Japan use 40% less energy per capita, the Scandanavian countries use considerably less than we do, and even we use 14% less than we did in 1979.

And, finally, how many of the 3% are funded by fossil fuel linked corporations?

Ken Lassman 3 years, 10 months ago

What does matter is that you ignored the science, which I've referenced that directly contradicts your non-referenced beliefs. Unless you can show me what is incorrect about the data, the analyses and/or the conclusions that contradict your "facts," your popularity contest points fall to the wayside as being tangential to the veracity of the trends being revealed by the science of climate science community. This is true with or without Pitt's argument.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 10 months ago

Human made pollution brings on global warming which brings on year round Climate Change. Makes sense and lots of it…. I'd say.

While global warming has been a concern for many many many many many many many decades some things seem to be certain:

  1. Never before has there been billions upon billions upon billions of humans polluting planet earth

  2. Never before has there been billions upon billions of gasoline burning vehicles spewing pollution into the atmosphere

  3. Never before has there been billions of homes demanding energy from polluting sources

  4. Never before has there been billions of buildings demanding energy from polluting sources

  5. Never before has there been billions of polluting energy generating sources

  6. Never before has there been billions upon billions upon billions upon billions upon billions of humans supporting the clearing of the rainforest for food products not knowing the long term impact of removing massive numbers of trees and medicinal plants.

  7. Never before has planet earth been expected to absorb tons and tons and tons and tons of pollution with human beings having no idea what the impact might be.

  8. Never before has there been billions upon billions upon billions upon billions upon billions upon billions upon billions of human beings believing THEIR pollution is having zero impact ....... can we say ignorance is bliss.

  9. Never before has there been billions upon billions upon billions upon billions upon billions of humans applying millions of gallons and or pounds of toxic chemicals to the landscapes.

  10. Air and water pollution are man made driven by ignorance that nature is invincible. All of us have been ignorant of this until some decided to learn that there may be a connection to the human wasteful lifestyles.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 10 months ago

The USA has many other sources of energy that could be put on lines as we speak to replace the most expensive and most polluting.

Faces of Clean Energy http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/

Blue print for a Clean Energy Economy http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/global_warming/climate-2030-roadmap-front-matter.pdf

Placing A Price On Global Warming Emissions http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/global_warming/climate-2030-roadmap-chapter-3.pdf

Flipping The Switch To Cleaner Electricity http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/global_warming/climate-2030-roadmap-chapter-5.pdf

Jim Phillips 3 years, 10 months ago

OK, just for the record, most Republicans do not dispute climate change. You will get very dizzy from all your "spinning". We dispute "MAN-MADE" climate change. Man did not create it, nor can man stop it.

There have been at least eight documented ice ages and subsequent thawings in the geological history of the earth. Man was not even on the planet for some of them and we certainly did not have the evil, pollution spewing technology we do today for most of them, yet they happened anyway. Our planet will still be here long after we become extinct and the climate will still be changing.

Climate change happens in spite of our best or worst efforts in either direction. To believe that man can control the climate is absolutely narcissistic and rediculous. But, to quote Mark Twain, "Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story."

Ken Lassman 3 years, 10 months ago

OK, just for the record, science is unambiguous: the current climate models cannot explain the rising temperatures and related observations without including the contribution of human released carbon emissions. The other natural forcings such as solar activity, gamma rays, volcanism, orbital variations, etc. just don't do the trick. In fact, if you look at figure 2.3 of the National Climate Assessment: http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report/our-changing-climate/observed-change without the impact of carbon emissions, natural factors should make global temps either even keeled or dropping slightly.

To say that human activity did not cause the 8 ice ages is akin to saying that the fact that your car won't start is due to a dead battery is ridiculous because the other 8 times it didn't start the battery was just fine. There are indeed many reasons a climate changes just as there are many reasons a car won't start; this time around, the driving factor for the observed climate changes is due to the huge amounts of geologically sequestered carbon we are releasing through our human activities, ranging from burning fossil fuels, deforestation, over-fertilizing, raising cattle, leaking gas wells and the like. You may not think that this adds up to be much, but in 2012, humans emitted 9.7 billion tonnes of carbon, way more than the earth is able to reabsorb, leading to an increase in atmospheric CO2 and acidifying the oceans. http://www.globalcarbonproject.org/carbonbudget/13/hl-compact.htm

We're changing the chemistry of the earth and disputing this fact is either ignoring the facts or deliberately suppressing the facts. Either way, there is mud on the face of every Republican who spouts this lie since there is no credible alternative explanation that has been presented by the denialists that can adequately or better explain the observations that have been coming in from all quarters.

So regarding your last point: is it really narcissistic to think that we can turn things around? Well, we ARE causing it, after all. It may be presumptuous to think that we can garner the political will to reduce our carbon emissions enough to make a difference, but technically speaking it is definitely possible. We need to have the support of both parties to be able to accomplish this huge undertaking, however, and if I were you, I'd be contacting my Republican representative to urge her or him to do just that. I would not want my party to be on the wrong side of history on this one, for sure.

Chris Golledge 3 years, 10 months ago

What you are saying is equivalent to, "Forest fires existed before man; therefore, man is not the cause of any forest fires."

Was Tyndall wrong? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Tyndall#Molecular_physics_of_radiant_heat

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