What Kind Of F*ckery Is this? Conservatives Retreat From Climate Change Denial

Climate-denial

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’

~ Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin’1

If you have been paying much attention to Capital Hill debate regarding climate change, you might have noticed some subtle changes coming out of the Republican Party in their approach to climate science.

For the longest time, Republicans were climate change atheists – so to speak – in constant denial that such a thing exists, or at the very least in denial that human activity played a role. Nowadays, more oft than not what you find is something akin to climate change agnosticism – “I don’t know for sure.” “The verdict is still out.” “Don’t ask me, I am not a scientist.”

During a recent interview with VICE News, President Obama stated that “Climate change is an example of the hardest problems to solve. The hardest thing to do in politics and in government is to make sacrifices now for a long-term payoff.” Noting the level of “sophistication and awareness” that the younger generations have “about environmental issues,” Obama added that: “I guarantee you that the Republican Party will have to change its approach to climate change because voters will insist on it.”

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some recent developments.

Climate Change Deniers In Politics Are In Retreat

put out an informative opinion piece on Monday entitled “Climate-change deniers are in retreat.”

Writing that “a healthy majority of Americans accept that global warming is real, and a New York Times poll earlier this year found that even half of Republicans support government action to address it,” Milbank goes on to note that:

More and more conservative officeholders are embracing the “I am not a scientist” agnosticism on climate change rather than skepticism. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner and presidential candidates Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio have adopted this response, and Rubio has joined Mitt Romney and Chuck Grassley in embracing the less assailable position that U.S. efforts to restrict carbon are pointless without similar efforts across the globe.

Milbank goes on to note that many corporations are distancing themselves from theories lacking in scientific foundation, like climate change denial such as Southern Co. who recently decided to drop funding for a Smithsonian scientist, known for challenging climate-change theory, who was recently outed for failing to disclose that his work was funded by the fossil-fuel industry – a staggering amount exceeding $1.2 million from the fossil-fuel industry over the last ten years, including at least $230,000 from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.

Oil companies such as Occidental Petroleum and BP recently quit the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, a powerful group that pushes for states to pass laws that are often drafted by industry, over their climate change denial.

Milbanks concludes his piece noting that “For politicians and climate-denial groups, the elixir of life is money. Now that corporations are becoming reluctant to bankroll crazy theories, the surrender of climate-change deniers will follow.”

The American Legislative Exchange Council Reverses Itself On Climate Change

In one of the more bizarre turnarounds on climate change, the American Legislative Exchange Council – ALEC – has not only reversed itself on climate change in recent months, they are now threatening legal action against anyone claiming they deny the existence of climate change as revealed last Sunday by The Washington Post.

Citing ALEC’s model legislation, acknowledging that “human activity has and will continue to alter the atmosphere of the planet,” which “may lead to demonstrable changes in climate,” attorneys representing ALEC sent “cease and desist” letters to Common Cause and The League of Conservation Voters demanding they immediately “cease making false statements” about their views on climate change and “remove all false or misleading material” suggesting that ALEC does not believe in global warming.

It is important to note here that according to The Washington Post, the League of Conservation Voters and Common Cause have “repeatedly criticized ALEC for pushing legislation to undercut renewable energy, such as solar and wind power.”

The Washington Post reported that those organizations refused the demand, citing “model legislation” that is still available on the ALEC Web site. In a different article, The Washington Post reported that:

The problem for ALEC is that as recently as 2013, it was still reaffirming “model legislation” calling on states to consider “legitimate and scientifically defensible alternative hypotheses” to the “mainstream scientific positions” on climate. The proposed legislation states that there is “a great deal of scientific uncertainty” about the matter and suggests states treat possible beneficial effects of carbon “in an evenhanded manner.”

Representatives from both Common Cause and the League of Conservation Voters said the legal demands from ALEC would not alter their position.

David Willet, the League of Conservation Voters senior vice president for communications, stated that:

We don’t appreciate the attempt to silence LCV just because we disagree with ALEC’s positions. Usually if someone wants to get serious about tackling climate change, they ask about working with us, they don’t threaten to sue us.

WHY ALL THE CONCERN BY ALEC?

Why all the sudden concern by ALEC? ALEC only reversed its position following a mass “exodus of some of its best known corporate members, including Google, British Petroleum, Facebook, Yahoo and Northrop Grumman.”

As reported by The Washington Post:

Activist groups had pressured these corporate sponsors in recent years to abandon their support for organizations that they believe oppose action to stem climate change. Google publicly connected its decision to stop funding ALEC to the climate change issue.

An additional report by The Washington Post noted that ALEC’s spat with Common Cause and the League of Conservation Voters had concern over continued donations at its core. The Washington Post notes that the “legal spat is an escalation of the conflict,” and “suggests a new risk to organizations that rely on the donations from companies that do not want to be associated with organizations accused of denying that human activity is warming the atmosphere at an alarming rate.”

ALEC’s efforts comes at the same time as a number of major corporations — including some in the fossil-fuels industry — are seeking to avoid taking positions on climate change that are at odds with mainstream science. […]
 
[C]orporate funders have been pressured to leave as Common Cause and other organizations complained it is little more than a lobbying shop for corporate interests, a charge ALEC has long denied.

Libertarian Group The Heartland Institute Reverses Its Position On Climate Change

The Heartland Institute, a Libertarian public policy think tank based out of Chicago, promotes itself as “the world’s most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change.”

According to their website,

In 2012, The Economist called Heartland “the world’s most prominent think tank supporting skepticism about man-made  climate change.” The New York Times called us “the primary American organization pushing climate change skepticism.”

However, on Christmas Eve of last year Justin Haskins, the editor of publications at The Heartland Institute, wrote an article for the conservative site Human Events entitled “A conservative’s case for global warming.”

In the article, Haskins concedes that “The real debate is not whether man is, in some way, contributing to climate change; it’s true that the science is settled on that point in favor of the alarmists,” adding that:

In the case of climate change, it can reasonably argued that each person should be free to enjoy the planet and to oppose any manmade actions that will inevitably destroy Earth. It’s a rather extreme position to say that we ought to allow dangerous pollutants to destroy the only planet we know of that can completely sustain human life.
 
Proper climate change reforms also can serve many important long-term goals that improve the lives of Americans. Eventually, renewable and clean energy sources could become a great source of prosperity for the United States. Energy independence will also halt the dangerous trend of Americans sending their dollars overseas to nations that are notorious for human rights violations.

FOOTNOTE:

1. The Times They Are A-Changin’ | The Official Bob Dylan Site, http://www.bobdylan.com/us/songs/times-they-are-changin (accessed April 7, 2015).

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Samuel Warde

Samuel is a writer, social activist, and all-around troublemaker.
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