Is Climate Denial Becoming a Political Liability?

May 20, 2014

National Journal:

…the media is increasingly asking GOP candidates about their views on climate change.

At a Thursday night debate in South Dakota, for instance, Republicans running for the Senate were asked to weigh in on climate change. Earlier this week, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida caused a tremendous stir when he announced he doesn’t believe human activity makes a major contribution to the earth’s warming climate. (Rubio later told The Miami Herald’s Marc Caputo, “I think all science deserves skepticism.”)

Before that, Democratic Rep. Gary Peters, who is running for the Senate in Michigan, called on his Republican rival Terri Lynn Land to state for the record whether she believes the science behind man-made climate change. He even announced to The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent that he intends to make climate change a key issue in the race.

Other GOP candidates who have been questioned lately on climate include Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, who’s running for a Colorado Senate seat, rising Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst, and all four Republican candidates in the North Carolina Senate race. An editorial published Tuesday in the Concord Monitor called on Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire to keep pushing the GOP on climate. And a Thursday editorialin Kentucky’s The Courier-Journal criticized Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul’s climate-change denial.

Climate change, as National Journal‘s Ronald Brownstein has observed, is one of several issues that matter to core Democratic constituencies, including and maybe even especially young voters. By embracing priorities that matter to these groups, like climate change, gun control, and gay marriage, Democrats are hoping to appeal to what Brownstein describes as a “coalition of the ascendant.”

The rise in climate-denial mentions in the media is observable in the past few years.

Greg Sargent in his Washington Post blog:

Dem Rep. Gary Peters, who is running for Senate in Michigan, is calling on GOP foe Terri Lynn Land to take a stand on whether she believes human activity is responsible for global warming. It may seem far fetched, but climate change could actually be an issue in this one Senate race, because of two factors: The centrality of the Great Lakes to the Michigan economy; and the huge expenditures on behalf of Land by the political group founded by Charles and David Koch.

Land’s spokesperson, in a statement to me, would say only that she disagrees with Peters on the “extent” to which humans have caused climate change, while adding that there “should be a healthy and educated debate on the impact of human activity on our environment.”

In an interview with me on Friday, Peters said (this will strike some as implausible, and others as refreshing) that he intends to talk about climate change as a key issue in this race, with a focus on the Great Lakes and on the role of a Koch Industries affiliate in a major local story involving piles of petroleum coke along the Detroit River.

“Michigan is on the front lines of climate change with our Great Lakes and economic system. The Great Lakes are incredibly important for Michigan,” Peters said. He noted the possibility that climate change could cause “dropping lake levels,” which could have a “big economic impact,” due to harbors on the Great Lakes and the shipping that goes on there. As a result, Peters said, it’s incumbent on Land to take a stand on climate change and what she would do about it.


“Sometimes you can’t convince people, you just have to defeat them.” That was Washington state governor Jay Inslee’s message about dealing with climate deniers today at Climate Solutions‘ 6th annual breakfast in Seattle.

“We’re not going to wait until the last person in Washington understands physics and chemistry in order to confront climate change,” Inslee said, describing his view that the climate policy debate essentially pits optimists against pessimists. Those who understand the urgent need to address climate change are the optimists who see climate solutions as beneficial for our health and economic prosperity, while those who deny the problem or think there’s nothing we can do about it are the pessimists. Nobody likes a pessimist. 

Governor Inslee was joined on stage today by David Gelber, the executive producer of the must-watch Showtime climate change series, Years of Living Dangerously. These two optimists were both in agreement that “climate deniers are really back on their heels,” as Gelber said about the increasing public pressure for politicians to stop waffling and move ahead with climate solutions. 

2 Responses to “Is Climate Denial Becoming a Political Liability?”

  1. jimbills Says:

    It’ll only be a factor in the general elections, and for Congress only in swing districts and states.

    It’ll play a lot more in the next Presidential election during the general. I’d be shocked if the Democratic nominee didn’t use it to his (or probably her) advantage.

  2. […] National Journal: …the media is increasingly asking GOP candidates about their views on climate change. At a Thursday night debate in South Dakota, for instance, Republicans running for the Senat…  […]

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