Can the GOP Survive the Aftermath of Climate Denial?

I am an evangelical American Christian. And a white baby-boomer, to boot.

That means, of course, that many of my closest friends and fellow believers usually support Republican political candidates. Maybe not as enthusiastically as they used to, what with the GOP’s stance on unlimited money in politics, opposition to immigration reform, Medicaid cuts, suppression of voting rights, the death penalty, reckless preemptive wars and austerity for the poor.

But let’s face it: We evangelicals still lean pretty heavily toward the GOP. I’m afraid, however, that the tide of history is about to ebb, and when it does, I suspect Christians will desert the Republicans in droves.

Here’s why: The GOP has made a hopelessly losing bet. They’ve bet that we’ll never wake up to the lethal consequences of what our fossil fuel addiction is doing to the world’s polluted and disrupted natural systems. Particularly the global climate system. Almost unanimously, Republicans in Congress have committed themselves to the denial and suppression of the increasingly alarming findings of climate science.

Thursday’s news brought us a fresh incarnation of this commitment. The House of Representatives voted to prohibit the U.S. Armed Services from considering climate change in their defense planning. Imagine FDR strictly forbidding naval commanders at Pearl Harbor from EVER planning for carrier-borne aircraft attacks. It’s about like that.

Here’s what happened. Congress is currently debating the National Defense Authorization Act for 2015, which will fund our nation’s military services. Of course, we’re investing more money into the military than the next nine largest militaries in the world combined. So we should be way ahead of them all, shouldn’t we?

One thing we’ve done since the year 2000 is to plan for the effects on national defense from global climate change — under presidents from both parties. Rising sea levels are threatening our naval infrastructure; the melting Artic is opening up a whole new ocean to patrol; extreme drought and flooding are destabilizing marginal nation-states – like Syria, Sudan, Libya and Somalia – and driving mass migration and resource conflicts.

In 2007, President George W. Bush appointed a Military Advisory Board to “help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change.” In response, the Armed Services issued a report finding that “climate change acts as a ‘threat multiplier’ in already fragile regions of the world, creating the breeding grounds for extremism and terrorism.”

Republican Bob Inglis, ousted from Congress for agreeing with climate science

Bob Inglis (R-SC), lone GOP voice for climate action, ousted from Congress by the party.

We haven’t forgotten, have we? Bush was a Republican. But back then, the GOP hadn’t figured out that they could frame climate science as something invented by Barack Obama – rather than a 200-year-old discipline now affirmed all over the world.

Fast forward to 2014. The House Thursday passed a measure that would bar the Department of Defense from using any government funds to assess climate change and its implications for national security. The amendment, from Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), passed with the support of 227 Republicans. Only 3 GOP congressmen joined the 189 Democrats in voting against the amendment. That’s more than 98% of GOP congressmen trying to forbid the military from thinking about how to defend our country in light of climate trends, as they did actively under Presidents Clinton and Bush.

Here’s how McKinley justified his amendment: “Why should Congress divert funds from the mission of our military and national security to support a political ideology?” All the congressional Republicans – except three, it seems – agreed with his assessment: climate change isn’t science; it’s ideology.

But dismissing an established global science, affirmed by virtually every National Academy on earth, embraced by America’s largest scientific society, contributed to by virtually every American research university, endorsed by all member states in the United Nations, and demonstrated by a growing trove of actual observation – surely this is dangerous business. Facts are stubborn things, and in this case, facts are piling up at breakneck speed.

In the long run, the GOP’s bet can only backfire. But as of today, they’ve managed to hang onto the faithful. By sowing doubt about the science, and casting researchers as ideologues, they’ve managed to make climate change possibly the most divisive issue in all of politics. More than abortion. More than gun control. More than the death penalty, evolution or GMO labelling.

Surprised? Just last week, the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire published the results of a poll of New Hampshire Republicans, Democrats and Independents regarding various topics related to science and policy. Among the questions they asked was this: “… Do you personally believe that climate change is happening now, caused mainly by human activities?”

You won’t be surprised to hear that 83% of Democrats answered Yes. But only 36% of non-Tea-Party Republicans agreed, and only 23% in the Tea Party. That turns out to be a 53% opinion gap between Democrats and Republicans on a matter of basic science. Among all the questions they asked, only Obama’s job approval rating revealed a wider chasm between the parties.

Source: Carsey Institute, University of New Hampshire

Source: Carsey Institute, University of New Hampshire

But science is about facts, not ideologies. And the facts are becoming clearer all the time. If runaway carbon emissions tip the world’s ecosystems over the edge, as 97% of climate scientists tell us they are, Republicans and Democrats will suffer just the same. And the GOP will then have some serious questions to answer – and we’ll be the ones asking for an explanation.

My Republican friends, you vote the way you do for good and cogent reasons. Your values are important to you; you embrace economic theories that can be argued with integrity; you believe credible things about the proper role of government. Our country needs your voice to achieve balance, without any doubt. But I don’t know a single one of you who votes for the GOP because they deny climate change. Surely you can be a good Republican without shutting your eyes to the warnings of science, can’t you?

The risks to your party are enormous. Don’t you think it’s time a few more of you began to sound the alarm?

4 thoughts on “Can the GOP Survive the Aftermath of Climate Denial?

  1. klem

    “Facts are stubborn things, and in this case, facts are piling up at breakneck speed.”

    Facts, like the 17.8 years of no global warming, you mean like that fact?

    “Do you personally believe that climate change is happening now, caused mainly by human activities?”

    I’m astounded that a university would ask this, its two questions in one. In any questionnaire design course they teach never to ask double questions like that, yet the U of H ignored it and asked it anyway. The Carsey Institute is staunchly left wing, no wonder they asked that question, and you have the nerve to suggest that climate change is not a ideology.

    I think your Republicans friends are correct about this one.

    1. John Elwood Post author

      It’s worth noting easy it is to shut our eyes to facts if our ideology demands it. The “staunchly left wing” institute that produced this survey asked the following question:

      Which of the following three statements do you personally believe? A. Climate change is happening now, caused mainly by human activities. B. Climate change is happening now, but caused mainly by natural forces. C. Climate change is NOT happening now.

      Hmm. I wonder how the results would have changed if they had asked this same question, but not been “staunchly left wing?”

      As to the claim that the climate has not warmed in 17.8 years, this is such a remarkable and reckless claim that I must show our readers the data on which such an assertion is made. Watch this space…

  2. Pingback: What Really Drives Climate Denial? | BelovedPlanet

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