Changes in the political climate can sometimes sneak up on you -- just like changes in the terrestrial climate. Case in point: A recent opinion piece in the right-wing Human Events, "A Conservative's Case for Global Warming", provides a hint that the GOP may be about to start tiptoeing away from climate change denial.
While still repeating a number of easily disprovable climate denial whoppers (e.g., that the earth hasn't warmed in the last 18 years, even though it has, and the usual cheap attempts to downplay the overwhelming scientific consensus), the author seemed to be striving to reposition conservative opinion to accept the reality of climate change -- this, even though he is a member of the Heartland Institute, notorious for (among other travesties) its repugnant Unabomber billboard campaign.
Others have noted the curious phrase that is now ubiquitous among Republican politicians - "I'm not a scientist" -- and like Jonathan Chait, have speculated on whether this phrase represents a kind of tactical retreat:
"I am not a scientist" makes sense as a way to resolve a tension within Republican politics. It may be a political liability for Republicans to openly associate themselves with the kook conspiracy theories popular among conservative ideologues. One solution might be for Republicans to concede that anthropogenic global warming is indeed real, but that any solution is simply too costly. That might allow Republicans to minimize their kook exposure while still hewing to the bottom line party doctrine that individuals and firms ought to be able to dump carbon into the atmosphere for free.
Climate change denial remains rife in Republican ranks, of course - CAP Action counts 56% of Congressional Republicans in the "climate denier caucus". But look closely and the signs are of the first troops starting to back away, hopefully heralding the very beginnings of a full-scale retreat.
As the night of November 4th wore on, it became clear that your political future lay firmly in the hands of Northern Virginia Democrats. Had the progressive counties of NoVa not loyally stood with you, you would now be out of a job.
This reality may conflict with your self-image as a "radical centrist" who likes to show your "independence" by poking your fingers in our eyes. Perhaps you're still fondly re-reading the yellowing news clips of your 2001 campaign, of its NASCAR races and turkey hunts.
But politically speaking, that was ages ago. The architect of that campaign, Mudcat Saunders, defected last year to endorse the ultra-right-wing Ken Cuccinelli. And last week, the NASCAR crowd jettisoned you like so much spare fuel.
They're not coming back, Senator. For better or for worse, there is no center remaining in American politics today. There are only two sides between which every politician must choose.
The results of last week's election mean that you're stuck with us extremist, wild-eyed liberals, Senator. You can no longer postpone paying attention to your base.
You need us - but the truth is that we need you too. We need you to stand up for our values and defend us from all the threats that the new Republican Senate majority represents for our country and our world.
So let's start with the reality that the scientific community is shouting at us to focus on.
"Let the seas rise. Let the wind blow." That's top Republican commentator Erick Erickson's position on climate change. I would say he's a "conservative" commentator, but there's absolutely nothing conservative about wanting to gas up your SUV cheaply now and while leaving the pollution bill for future generations to pay. It's pure selfishness - "I've got mine so screw you" presented as profound political philosophy.
Erickson may just be one blogger, but here he gets to the core motivations of today's Congressional Republican leadership - America isn't worth investing in. Energy? Just give me what's cheapest today - if we need alternatives tomorrow, someone else can spend the money on it. Education? If my family needs that, I can pay to send my children to private school, but I won't volunteer a dime in additional taxes to improve our community. The environment? I can buy home air filters and bottled water - if you can't, too bad for you & yours.
"We are all going to die," Erickson cynically concludes. "Just not today." And by then, it'll be up to our children and grandchildren to build massive hurricane barriers outside every East Coast city to keep out the rising seas and monster storms as the bill comes due for all that cheap coal, oil and fracked gas.
When reporters ignore climate change in their stories, they end up sounding like they're blaming the supernatural for events easily connected to climate change. I'm late in getting to this, but take this Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot story from January on a sharp decline in catch of striped bass:
They say there are a handful of elements that have lowered the ocean take the past two years.
Weather has been the biggest reason. Warmer starts to the past two winters have caused many rockfish to stay in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, or up the coast around upper Maryland and New Jersey. [...]
"It's been the strangest year," said Rob O'Reilly, chief of fisheries management for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. "The weather has been so screwy that some fish haven't moved south like they usually do, and the ones that have positioned themselves offshore."
Reporters are often reluctant to connect the dots to climate change because they're not climate science experts and they're worried that doing so will draw the ire of anti-science Tea Party activists.
But when reporters ignore reality, they leave their audience absolutely baffled. Strange! Screwy! Don't ask me for answers, you're on your own! And then newspapers wonder why half of their audience has stopped paying $15 a month for a subscription. If you have to go find the truth yourself anyway, might as well do it for free on the internet.
"It's been clear for a decade that they're really struggling on the lower Delmarva seaside," said Bryan Watts, center director. "What's so dramatic to me about this particular situation is that between 1993 and 2003, there was some indication of this, but it's like in the early 2000s, we dropped off a cliff."
Laughing gulls, with their black heads and loud calls of "Ha... ha... ha," are among the most recognizable shorebirds. Historically, they nested in huge numbers in the marshes of the lagoons and barrier islands on the Atlantic side of the Eastern Shore. But rising sea level has led to periodic flooding that drowns chicks and wipes out nests, Watts said.
"You reach a tipping point," he said. "That's when they're washed out so frequently that they can't hatch chicks. Then those colonies are lost." [...]
"This is just another example of how the climate and sea level are changing, and the response to that," Watts said. "Behind Cobb Island, there's an entire complex of marsh islands that are referred to collectively as Gull Marsh. It's a pretty long string, a mile or so. That used to be a real gull factory there. It is no longer."
One year after superstorm Sandy became the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, Super Typhoon Haiyan just became the strongest landfalling tropical cyclone on record, hitting the Philippines with sustained winds of 190-195mph and gusts to 235mph. That's as strong as a top-of-the-scale EF-5 tornado ... except Haiyan's eye is eight miles wide.
Why is the storm so historically strong? NOAA blames warm deep water. When climate science deniers claim a global warming "pause," the heat isn't missing - it's right there lurking in the ocean, waiting to put super typhoons on steroids.
Better burn all the coal and oil while we still can.
It's not just that today's Republican Party rejects all available solutions to all available problems because they don't want President Obama to get any credit for solving any problems. They're willing to create entirely new crises solely in hopes of making President Obama look bad.
Congressional Republicans won't support any legislation that gives President Obama any credit for solving the climate crisis, and in fact if the climate crisis did not exist, it's not hard to imagine the House GOP gleefully passing bills trying to create one. The only hope is that either Democrats can re-take the House or that Congressional Republicans get more interested in problem-solving - as Wayne Gretzky once said, skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been. Climate activists should be planning and power building now for that moment when it comes, hopefully in 2014 or 2016.
In its latest example of insanity, the Republican Party of Virginia "is reminding voters that Terry McAuliffe's experts at the anti-coal League of Conservation Voters have already praised the new regulations." The regulations being referred to are those being enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), requiring new coal-burning power plants to limit the carbon dioxide that is released. According to the Republican Party of Virginia, the new coal-burning regulations will "kill jobs."
But instead of throwing the full force of its rhetorical slime at Terry McAuliffe, the Republican Party of Virginia has settled for criticizing McAuliffe for being allies with the League of Conservation Voters, who has praised the new EPA regulations. For McAuliffe's own part, he has said he'll make a decision in the near future about whether to support the regulations or not.
The Environmental Protection Agency is unveiling carbon pollution limits for new power plants today. The coal industry is screaming bloody murder that no one could possibly expect new coal-fired power plants to implement carbon pollution-cutting technology, but it was only a few years ago that Big Coal was promising Americans it could do exactly that.
The rules will require that coal-fired power plants stop treating our skies like an open carbon sewer. While the rules are only being made public today, the coal industry has spent all week promising to send an army of corporate lawyers to fight the pollution restrictions:
Utility companies with large coal fleets already are preparing to challenge the rule, if it is finalized, on the grounds that the agency is requiring pollution controls that have not yet been "adequately demonstrated" in the marketplace.
Joseph Stanko, head of government relations for the law firm Hunton & Williams, said the EPA's reliance on "federally funded demonstration projects" as the base for its new standard "is illegal, it doesn't 'adequately demonstrate' technology for normal use."
Remember the coal industry was buying billboards promising us coal could be "clean and green with new technologies"?
Republican leaders aren't representing Republican voters on climate action. Poll after poll shows anywhere from 30% to 50% of Republican voters say climate change is happening and we should do something about it, but only a handful of Congressional Republicans advocate climate action. Why aren't Congressional Republicans representing their own voters on climate change? These articles ignore the disparity altogether.
No one likes a carbon tax better than carbon limits. Both articles argue that a revenue-neutral carbon tax is superior to Environmental Protection Agency limits on carbon pollution, citing conservative economists who say that's the most virtuous way to go. The problem is that among non-economists, Americans across party lines agree taxes are bad and Environmental Protection Agency regulations are good. Even if it was popular, as Grist's David Roberts has detailed, a carbon tax is trickier than you think.
Why is inaction untenable? Neither article lays out the scientific urgency of addressing climate change - for example, the number of American communities that inaction will literally put underwater. Neither article lays out the political urgency - for example, that young voters think Republican climate denial is ignorant, out-of-touch and crazy. Both articles focus on economic solutions, which again, is compelling to economists but won't win you many arguments at a neighborhood picnic. A much stronger case was made by a young conservative Congressional staffer ... who wrote under a pen name for fear of losing his job for speaking the truth about the scientific & political urgency of climate action.
Much like with immigration reform, Congressional Republicans have painted themselves into a political corner: They're screwed in the short-term because they've opposed sensible solutions for so long, they'll get none of the political credit for their passage. But that would leave them screwed in the long-term as the ignoramus party. Wouldn't you rather take the short-term hit and move on to topics that you can win on?
I'd rather these articles have dealt with that reality, rather than blaming "gridlock" and pushing plans no one likes. Where does that get us?
The CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp. says there's no quick replacement for oil, and sharply cutting oil's use to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would make it harder to lift 2 billion people out of poverty.
"What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?" CEO Rex Tillerson said at the oil giant's annual meeting Wednesday.
Think about how much oil the world's poor consume. Are they buying cars and driving to work, or are they walking or biking? Would they be helped more by lower gas prices for cars they can't afford anyway, or by making small-scale clean energy more affordable - solar-powered local water filtration systems, home solar stoves, and better battery storage?
A new Gallup poll shows worry about global warming and acceptance of the climate science consensus is up sharply in the last two years. Those spikes are not being fueled by Democrats or independents - they're being fueled by Republicans.
But the political conventional wisdom in Washington presents a very real obstacle to this reality breaking through. The same pundits who bemoan partisan polarization in one breath perpetuate it the next - all Democrats hate coal, and all Republicans hate clean air! The nuance of rank-and-file Republicans disagreeing with Republican party leadership stands little chance of breaking through these stereotypes.
Let's dig into the poll numbers. You could make the case that Republicans are just cooling off from the heated fight over clean energy & climate legislation that had party leaders, polluters, and conservative media telling them that they had to oppose climate action to support the team.
But we're just coming off an election year in which Republican candidates went after climate science and clean energy with renewed fury, yet rank-and-file Republican acceptance of the climate science consensus went up anyway. What's really going on here?
Self-styled "centrist" Democratic senators like Tim Kaine and Mark Warner say they recognize climate reality and support action to cut carbon pollution. But ... then they see polls that show the public is split on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline ... and feel pressure from Very Serious People in Washington who won't say no to anything the oil, gas and coal industries want ... and think, maybe we can have both? Get credit for support this current & specific polluting pipeline AND burnish climate bona fides by hand-waving towards some future & not yet existent climate effort?
No. Climate action isn't just about the easy & popular things, like clean energy and energy efficiency. It's also about the hard things, like saying no to oil and coal barons who may spend lots of money to try to defeat you in your next re-election campaign. You can't claim to support climate action, but wilt like corn caught in a global warming-fueled drought every time big polluters come asking for a favor.
Either folks like Tim Kaine and Mark Warner support climate action. Or they support Keystone XL and don't really care about things like confronting superstorms like Sandy or protecting our natural resources for future generations. They can't have it both ways.
Predictions that a major El Niño warming event - and the coming solar maximum - would help make next year the warmest on record now seem wide of the mark. All eyes will probably be on the Arctic instead. Some say the record loss of sea ice in summer 2012 was a one-off, others that it was the start of a runaway collapse. If the latter, summer sea ice could virtually disappear as early as 2016. What is certain is that the ice reforming now will be the thinnest on record, priming it for destruction next summer. [...]
When our children are wondering why we didn't solve the climate crisis when we had the chance, I'm sure they'll be thankful we took the time to try to gut their retirement benefits.
This morning I watched Meet The Press host David Gregory and his panel not only agree Social Security and Medicare must be cut, but to brainstorm aloud strategy for making it happen. This very same panel had just gotten done unanimously agreeing that objective journalists are not allowed to say that Republicans are the problem in Washington. But they were now designing their very own political campaign.
Because people in the insular, wealthy world of Beltway politics will never need to put off a trip to the grocery store until their Social Security check arrives. The threat of going hungry could never compare to the alleged threat of the budget deficit.
Tonight's presidential debate will be held in Colorado, where wildfires recently burned 202,425 acres of land (316.3 square miles). Those wildfires killed five people, forced the evacuation of 34,500 people, and destroyed over 600 homes.
Seems like something that's worth having Barack Obama and Mitt Romney discuss at tonight's debate, don't you think?
Nah, probably best to stick to discussing how many additional federal workers we should lay off, how much we can cut aid to states to feed/provide health care for kids, whether to force seniors to get jobs (or at least pay income tax on their social security) so those loafers can get out of the 47%, etc.
The war on climate scientists funded by billionaires like the Koch brothers, Richard Mellon Scaife and Philip Anschutz makes much more sense when you look at it through this prism. If you already look out the window and see literally half of your fellow Americans as thieves trying to steal from you, well OF COURSE climate scientists are greedy cheaters manipulating the data to back their phony lying hoax so they can get their grubby little stealing hands on more research grants.
It's a cynical, destructive way to view the world (and life), but I understand it. What I don't understand is why anyone would take them and the organizations they fund seriously as a source for climate science, as the PBS NewsHour apparently did last night.
With reality denial dominating the Republican Party platform, how will Republican National Convention delegates reconcile that the start of their 2012 gathering in Tampa was delayed by climate-fueled extreme weather?
First, let's be clear: It's Big Oil-funded GOP leadership that's the problem, not rank-and-file Republicans. While virtually every Republican member of Congress and national party leader rejects climate science, 43% of rank-and-file Republicans see "solid evidence of global warming" according to the Pew Research Center.
Dig a little deeper and those numbers should be even more eye-catching for GOP leadership.
Whether you're anti-science crusader Ken Cuccinelli, solution-rejecting Bob McDonnell, or any of Virginia's "centrist" Democrats who know global warming means we're screwed but remain too cowardly to advocate aggressive action, aside from a couple of dozen lonely progressive voices, Richmond is united in telling climate change to go away. Lo and behold, climate change has stubbornly refused to stop accelerating, and now communities like Norfolk are struggling to deal with climate impacts with no help from the state:
City and county leaders, already burdened with typical tasks of local governance - zoning, construction permits, liquor licenses, school board appointments - are also weighing multi-million-dollar flood control projects to keep the ocean at a livable distance.
While they struggle to pull together know-how and funding, those with the broader view and resources - state agencies - are absent from the discussions: In a study released earlier this year, the Natural Resources Defense Council ranked Virginia as one of 29 states that were "largely unprepared and lagging behind" on planning for climate change at the state level.
In many ways the problem is already upon Norfolk. The Atlantic Ocean off Virginia's coast is rising a quarter of an inch annually, equivalent to two feet in 100 years - faster than anywhere else in the United States except for coastal Louisiana. The ocean at Sewells Point, site of the Norfolk Naval Station, rose 14.5 inches between 1930 and 2010. And that's likely to accelerate. Last month the U.S. Geological Survey reported that sea levels are rising more quickly along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Massachusetts than globally, possibly as a result of slowing Atlantic Ocean circulation patterns.
The inaction of Virginia's elected officials is actually hurting the state twice - not just paying the price of climate inaction through extreme weather and sea level rise, but hurting Virginia's economy by losing out on clean energy jobs. But hey, who has time to confront looming disaster when there's women's bodies that need regulating, amirite?
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