Denial and Depravity: The Conservative Conscience on Climate

November 27, 2018

Disgusting display on Sunday talk shows this week as one after another troglodyte climate denier trotted out to give ‘the other side” of the catastrophic warnings from the world’s most distinguished scientists.

Still, the election this month was a watershed on the politics of climate. Video recap coming, stay tuned.

Max Boot in the Washington Post:

I admit it. I used to be a climate-change skeptic. I was one of those conservatives who thought that the science was inconclusive, that fears of global warming were as overblown as fears of a new ice age in the 1970s, that climate change was natural and cyclical, and that there was no need to incur any economic costs to deal with this speculative threat. I no longer think any of that, because the scientific consensus is so clear and convincing.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment, released Friday by the U.S. government, puts it starkly: “Observations collected around the world provide significant, clear, and compelling evidence that global average temperature is much higher, and is rising more rapidly, than anything modern civilization has experienced, with widespread and growing impacts.” The report notes that “annual average temperatures have increased by 1.8°F across the contiguous United States since the beginning of the 20th century” and that “annual median sea level along the U.S. coast . . . has increased by about 9 inches since the early 20th century as oceans have warmed and land ice has melted.”

The report attributes these changes to man-made greenhouse gases and warns: “High temperature extremes, heavy precipitation events, high tide flooding events along the U.S. coastline, ocean acidification and warming, and forest fires in the western United States and Alaska are all projected to continue to increase, while land and sea ice cover, snowpack, and surface soil moisture are expected to continue to decline in the coming decades.”

The U.S. government warnings echo the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In October, it released a report that represented the work of 91 scientists from 60 countries. It describes, in the words of the New York Times, “a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040.”

Here, a nauseating example of “I’m not a scientist” bullshit talking points. Literally nothing said here is factual. Put down hot liquids.


Boot again:

Imagine if these figures reflected a rise in terrorism — or illegal immigration. Republicans would be freaking out. Yet they are oddly blasé about this climate code red. President Trump, whose minions buried the climate change report on the day after Thanksgiving, told Axios: “Is there climate change? Yeah. Will it go back like this, I mean will it change back? Probably.” And, amid a recent cold snap, he tweeted: “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS – Whatever happened to Global Warming?”

By this point no one should be surprised that the president can’t tell the difference between short-term weather fluctuations and long-term climate trends. At least he didn’t repeat his crazy suggestion that climate change is a Chinese hoax. Yet his denialism is echoed by other Republicans who should know better. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) told CNN on Sunday: “Our climate always changes and we see those ebb and flows through time. . . . We need to always consider the impact to American industry and jobs.”

I’ve owned up to the danger. Why haven’t other conservatives? They are captives, first and foremost, of the fossil fuel industry, which outspent green groups by 10 to 1 in lobbying on climate change from 2000 to 2016. But they are also captives of their own rigid ideology. It is a tragedy for the entire planet that America’s governing party is impervious to science and reason.

Paul Krugman in the New York Times:

But the Trump administration and its allies in Congress will, of course, ignore this analysis. Denying climate change, no matter what the evidence, has become a core Republican principle. And it’s worth trying to understand both how that happened and the sheer depravity involved in being a denialist at this point.

Wait, isn’t depravity too strong a term? Aren’t people allowed to disagree with conventional wisdom, even if that wisdom is supported by overwhelming scientific consensus?

Yes, they are — as long as their arguments are made in good faith. But there are almost no good-faith climate-change deniers. And denying science for profit, political advantage or ego satisfaction is not O.K.; when failure to act on the science may have terrible consequences, denial is, as I said, depraved.

The shocking truth is that by the 1950s, these companies already knew that smoking caused lung cancer; but they spent large sums propping up the appearance that there was a real controversy about this link. In other words, they were aware that their product was killing people, but they tried to keep the public from understanding this fact so they could keep earning profits. That qualifies as depravity, doesn’t it?

In many ways, climate denialism resembles cancer denialism. Businesses with a financial interest in confusing the public — in this case, fossil-fuel companies — are prime movers. As far as I can tell, every one of the handful of well-known scientists who have expressed climate skepticism has received large sums of money from these companies or from dark money conduits like DonorsTrust — the same conduit, as it happens, that supported Matthew Whitaker, the new acting attorney general, before he joined the Trump administration.

But climate denial has sunk deeper political roots than cancer denial ever did. In practice, you can’t be a modern Republican in good standing unless you deny the reality of global warming, assert that it has natural causes or insist that nothing can be done about it without destroying the economy. You also have to either accept or acquiesce in wild claims that the overwhelming evidence for climate change is a hoax, that it has been fabricated by a vast global conspiracy of scientists.

Why would anyone go along with such things? Money is still the main answer: Almost all prominent climate deniers are on the fossil-fuel take. However, ideology is also a factor: If you take environmental issues seriously, you are led to the need for government regulation of some kind, so rigid free-market ideologues don’t want to believe that environmental concerns are real (although apparently forcing consumers to subsidize coal is fine).

Finally, I have the impression that there’s an element of tough-guy posturing involved — real men don’t use renewable energy, or something.


Sen. Ben Sasse on Sunday called on his fellow lawmakers to begin thinking of innovative ways to combat climate change after a group of federal scientists released an alarming report this past week.

A report from federal scientists was released Friday by the Trump administration, and it was very much at odds with the president’s stance on climate change.

The report warns that the planet’s coastlines will permanently alter, droughts and storms will worsen, and there will be outbreaks of dangerous diseases because of rising temperatures.

Sasse (R-Neb.) said during an interview on “Fox News Sunday“ that the climate is changing and that humans are a contributing factor, but that “reasonable people” can differ on “how much and how rapidly.”

He said new discussions on how to be innovative to “integrate our way into the future” need to happen, but that he is not seeing any from lawmakers who have pushed climate change as their No. 1 issue.

“I think the real question though becomes what do you do about it because you can’t legislate or regulate your way into the past,” he said. “Right now, you don’t hear a lot of people who put climate as a No. 1 issue, you don’t hear a lot of them offering constructive innovative solutions for the future, it’s usually just a lot of alarmism.”

He added that other countries, such as China, are contributing to the changing climate more and are “going to be the No. 1 drivers in the long term.”


8 Responses to “Denial and Depravity: The Conservative Conscience on Climate”

  1. mbrysonb Says:

    I keep on naively expecting the tide to turn, but Republicans (and so-called ‘conservatives’ here in Canada, too) have been corrupted by the wonderful, irresistible money and power the industry has provided as it plots to extract every last dollar from the little metier it has learned so well. Inconvenient truths are so easily ignored, once you get the hang of it– a little bit of ‘what about,’ a smidgen of ‘those other guys,’ a large dollop of ‘history? what history?’ and the heady aroma of money and power. It doesn’t help that even moderates who talk seriously about the issue are unprepared to inconvenience the industry and BAU in general in any serious way. An itty-bitty carbon tax, some minor subsidies for energy efficiency, but no ramp-up to levels that could make a real difference, and always accompanied by massive whinging from so-called ‘conservatives’ (our Trumpish “Progressive Conservative”(tm) premier of Ontario calls the carbon tax the “worst tax ever”).
    No new building codes requiring up-to-date energy efficiency and environmentally sound materials (builders, it seems, hate anything that raises up-front costs, so to hell with cost of ownership). Somehow it’s undermined my faith in the gospel of the market: the discount on future value is trending towards ‘burn it all’.

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    Excellent post—Boot and Krugman get it, and mbryson’s comments about Repugnants and “conservatives” are motivated only by money and power are right on as well.

    I object to the title, though. I appreciate the sarcasm and irony behind “The Conservative Conscience on Climate”, since “conservatives” have demonstrated they have next to NO conscience on climate (or anything much else either, come to think of it), but the behaviors cited have gone beyond mere depravity and into full blown MORAL EVIL. Krugman is being too kind.

  3. Don Osborn Says:

    “You know, the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don’t alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit their views.”
    Dr Who, Face of Evil, Jan 1977.

  4. Sir Charles Says:

    Brace Yourselves for El Niño Likely in 2019

    There is a 75-80 percent chance of an El Niño developing by February, the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced Tuesday.

  5. mboli Says:

    Senator Sasse: Your party refuses to consider any policy that can’t be expressed in a simple-minded sentence fragment slogan. “Build the wall”. “Cut corporate taxes”. “Eliminate job-killing regulation”. “Voter ID”.

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