The defeat of climate legislation in the 111th Congress fits into the GOP's circumscribed conception of national security, which places military threats and "foreign enemies" above all dangers including, and perhaps most unbelievably, global warming. Tragically, this narrow focus, informed by a range of factors--not least the "Military Industrial Complex"--assures a perpetual state of war, and undermines the very survival of the planet.
As the U.S is battered by ferocious winter storms and the planet endures historic weather volatility, the question of global climate change predictably comes up. Opinion makers on the right assert vindication and invoke the harsh winter to discredit global warming. Climate experts warn of a possible connection, but based on mounting historical data and statistical analysis, not singular weather events.
The conservative Fox News Channel--an appendage of corporate interests invested in denial--exemplifies the practice of citing isolated weather episodes to refute climate change. In 2010, Sean Hannity, Fox's pugnacious host, used a heavy northeasterly storm to mock Al Gore's "hysterical global warming theories." Hannity's radio and television shows are a favored platform for skeptics who deem global warming a "liberal conspiracy"--what the host dismisses as the "biggest scientific fraud in our lifetimes."
Another Fox News commentator, Tucker Carlson, dismisses global warming as a religion, "one with particularly fervent believers." Like Hannity, Carlson gloats over winter storms as proof that climate change is a "liberal hoax."
Underlying the denial of climate change is the claim that the evidence is inconclusive or nonexistent. Without scientific certainty, goes the warning, the U.S. should not commit to greenhouse gas reduction regimes that might impose a high cost on business and cripple the economy.
Hypocrisy on national security--Exhibit A: The Iraq War
The right's claimed fidelity to the rules of scientific evidence would be admirable and noble, except for the glaring hypocrisy and inconsistency.
When pushing for war against Iraq, rightwing operatives such as Hannity and Carlson had little regard for evidence. In the months leading up to the war--on talk radio, television news programs, newspaper op-ed pieces--they were united in message and purpose: The U.S. cannot allow the "smoking gun" (Saddam's supposed nuclear program) to become a "mushroom cloud" (nuclear catastrophe). Although no evidence was ever presented, a Google search conveys the astonishing discipline with which the "mushroom cloud" scenario was invoked to sell the Iraq War.
On September 8, 2002, then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice told CNN, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." A month later, President Bush warned before a cheering crowd in Cincinnati that the United Stated cannot wait for the "smoking gun" that could become a "mushroom cloud."
When Nathan Britton of California Peace Action appeared on Fox News on October 7, 2002, host Sean Hannity went straight for the ambush: "What if you're wrong and Saddam gets a nuke, and kills a lot of children with it?" The debate was effectively over as Britton--like subsequent liberal guests on Hannity's show--scrambled for the right response. In the following months, the pro-war camp would use this killer frame to bludgeon hapless opponents--all the way to "Shock and Awe."
So, for pro-war advocates, Iraq was worth committing American blood and treasure, even with questionable evidence of WMD's, because the risk to national security, in their view, was unacceptable.
Fast-forward to the current debate on climate change, and the sense of urgency about national security has vanished. Those who pushed for war as a national security imperative, with no proof of threats, now demand unimpeachable evidence of climate change before taking steps to prevent planetary catastrophe. Yet in 2010, a National Science Academy report implored Congress to "act now" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and affirmed global warming as anthropogenic (human-made) and affecting a "broad range of human and natural systems."
We therefore must ask: If Iraq's alleged nuclear program was a looming "mushroom cloud" worth risking American lives to prevent, how is the potential for climate meltdown--the mother of all mushroom clouds--not an emergency worth worrying about?
The American conservative movement has cast its lot with climate change denial. A survey by ThinkProgress found nearly all of the Republicans who ran for the 37 U.S. Senate seats in 2010 disputed the scientific consensus around global warming.
Echoing Hannity and Carlson, Oklahoma's Senator James Inhofe, the most aggressive of deniers in the U.S. congress, charged that global warming was the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." In 2002, Frank Luntz, a conservative pollster and consultant, advised Republicans all they should do to prevent congressional action on climate change is to spread doubt about the "scientific consensus on global warming."
Obviously when it suits their agenda (war making), rightwing ideologues have no problem discarding the rules of evidence, as they did during the push for war. And so it is, that the drumbeat for war against imagined threats was matched only by the zeal to stymie climate change legislation.
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