Sat, Jul

Republican Debate Shows Candidates Stuck in Denial on Climate Emergency


DEBATE - Neil Vigdor at The New York Times focuses on the short moment in the Republican Debate last night when reality intervened in the proceedings and even the Fox News moderators, Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, asked about the issue of the climate crisis. They wanted a show of hands by the candidates on who believed it is a crisis.

Unfortunately this reasonable request for transparency was sidelined by Florida Supreme Leader Ron DeSantis, who opined that the candidates “were not schoolchildren” and should just “have the debate.” DeSantis has done his best to keep schoolchildren from having a balanced, science-based education. Unfortunately, despite not being schoolchildren, DeSantis and his colleagues also appear to have been denied a science-based education, or maybe they played hooky during eighth-grade chemistry. DeSantis didn’t repeat it here, but his silliness on the issue is that he says, “I don’t politicize the weather.” This assertion is ignorant, since the issue is climate, not weather, and it is stupid, because of course allowing ExxonMobil to conduct a vast experiment in geoengineering our planet to be much hotter is political.

Businesses with a practical interest in climate change are voting with their feet. State Farm has announced that it will not insure any more houses in Florida. Gee, Ron, why do you think it might be? Could it be because the Atlantic and Caribbean are heating up, fueling more powerful and destructive hurricanes, and State Farm fears climate change will bankrupt it in Florida? That is the state of which you’re supposed to be the governor, right? Do you know anything?

This roster of Republican candidates is not only out of the American mainstream on this issue, it is probably not even reflective of the full spectrum of positions inside the Republican party, since a third of the candidates didn’t assert that there is a climate crisis and we are causing it.

Exhibit A for science illiteracy is Vivek Ramaswamy, an obscure Indian-American businessman and former hedge fund manager who, worryingly, seems to have large positions in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. He began with an oxymoron, went on to a bald-faced lie, and ended with paranoid delusion: “Let us be honest as Republicans—I’m the only person on the stage who isn’t bought and paid for, so I can say this—that climate change is a hoax... And so the reality is more people are dying of bad climate change policies than they are of actual climate change.”

If this guy’s investments in biotech and pharmaceuticals produce any medical products, I’d avoid them like the plague, since he has no idea what he is talking about.

So, human-caused climate change is not a hoax. The science is established and virtually unchallenged in contemporary peer-reviewed academic journals. Nobody is dying from climate change policies, which simply promote wind, solar, and battery power generation. In fact, coal plants in the U.S. were killing 24,000 people a year in 2004, and as the plants have closed it fell to 3,100 in 2016. Those plants were replaced in part by wind and solar, so the exact opposite of what Ramaswamy said is true. Combating climate change is also saving lives because fossil fuels not only produce explosive carbon pollution but also particulate matter that causes lung cancer and heart attacks.

Also, we are now at the point where human-caused climate change is visible to the naked eye and doesn’t require higher degrees to see. Cold places like Canada didn’t used to have annual wildfire seasons, balmy tropical paradises like Maui didn’t used suddenly to burn to the ground, we didn’t have a monthlong heat dome over the middle of our country, and 60,000 people didn’t used to die of heat stroke during European summers. I grew up in France, and when I was a kid it was cold in Paris and Orleans in June, and I was made to learn to swim even if it turned me blue. Even when I was a young adult working in the India Office Archives in London in May, I used to have to get under the covers when I got home because I was chilled to the bone. Now London has deadly heatwaves in late spring and summer.

Polling shows that 63% of Americans who have experienced unusually hot days this summer believe that human-caused climate change is at least part of the cause. Even 35% of Republicans say this is true. A full 85% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents affirm it. So this roster of Republican candidates is not only out of the American mainstream on this issue, it is probably not even reflective of the full spectrum of positions inside the Republican party, since a third of the candidates didn’t assert that there is a climate crisis and we are causing it.

Then Nikki Haley weighed in. “Is climate change real?... Yes, it is. But if you want to go and really change the environment, then we need to start telling China and India that they have to lower their emissions.”

It all depends on how you count things. The U.S. is the biggest historical emitter of greenhouse gases. China won’t overtake us in that regard until 2050, and India’s footprint is about a third of those two. It is true that the U.S. needs to work with China and India to reduce CO2 emissions rapidly. But America will have more credibility in seeking such cooperation if it is itself lowering its emissions (it isn’t, so far).

America is in crisis. It is facing the most profound security threat, in the form of the climate crisis, that it has ever confronted. The only practical and rational response is to cease burning fossil fuels and go to green energy as fast as humanly possible. Only the government can carry out this task at the necessary scale. That we have these ignorant nonentities running to head up that government in the midst of this crisis is a horrifying travesty.

(Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His newest book, "Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires" was published in 2020. He is also the author of "The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East" (2015) and "Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East" (2008). He has appeared widely on television, radio, and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at Salon.com. He has written, edited, or translated 14 books and has authored 60 journal articles. This article was published in Common Dreams.)