The GOP's Faith-Based Climate

"America is not a planet," said Sen. Marco Rubio in response to a question on climate change during the first Republican debate. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The GOP's Faith-Based Climate

Webster's defines "faith" as a "belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence." Traditionally, this connotes theology. But the Republicans now offer us faith-based politics -- that intellectual lotus land where dogma, blissfully unmoored from fact, suffocates reality. One stellar example, climate change, captures the party's intricate pas de deux between ignorance and venality.

By now, denying global warming should be no more respectable than it was, 30 years ago, to assert that those hacking coughs emitting from terminal cancer patients could be ameliorated by smoking. The scientific consensus is no less compelling: a recent survey of scientific papers on the subject showed that 97 percent affirmed man-made climate change. Little wonder. Nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001; the tenth was three years earlier. Reaching further back, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen 40 percent since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. The evidence accumulates -- droughts, melting ice caps, cod dying off New England, rising sea levels menacing the Florida coast. Worldwide, this will be the hottest year ever. And for those sentimentalists who care about the world we leave behind, by century's end the Persian Gulf will be close to uninhabitable. Given all that, most Republican voters are inclined to believe in climate change.

But not those we would call the party's thought leaders were there any thought involved. Their cartoonish face is Senator James Inhofe, a man whose words and deeds cry out for H.L. Mencken. Global warming, he assures us, is the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." Deriding climate science as a "secular religion," Inhofe gives us the real thing: "[A ] lot of alarmists forget God is still up there." The actual problem? It's "the arrogance of people who think that we [can] change what He is doing to the climate."

To preserve our faith in the Almighty, Inhofe and his confrere, Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, seek to prevent us from biting the apple of knowledge -- Inhofe by hostile inquisitions into federal climate research; Smith by cutting $300 million from NASA's budget in order to defund it. Inhofe's sense of the scientific method refutes the need for such extravagance, as exemplified by the priceless moment he rebutted global warming by throwing a snowball on the Senate floor. Only cynics would note that the oil and gas industry is his leading funder; a more charitable assessment of the senator's intellect and grasp of science gives one ample reason to credit his sincerity. So let us leave him in that so very sunny world where, as he tells it, "increases in global temperature may well have a beneficial effect on how we live our lives."

But one must cast a more wintry eye on his senatorial colleagues, all but five of whom opposed a resolution stating that "human activity significantly contributes to climate change." Of particular interest are two senators now widely touted as presidential finalists -- Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

On the subject of climate change Rubio is, as ever, finely attuned to the political moment. While a Florida legislator, he believed that action on climate change -- including "emissions caps and energy diversification" -- could make Florida "the Silicon Valley of [the energy] industry." Such was his fervor that he voted in favor of regulating greenhouse gases. But that, truly, was then. Five years later, Rubio coined the "I'm not a scientist" dodge to avoid opining on the subject altogether. Now, as a candidate, he is a full-fledged climate denier, armed with a three-pronged attack: first, "I do not believe that human activities are causing these dramatic changes;" second, it is "absurd" that laws could change our weather; and third, instead they "will destroy our economy." One is left to imagine Rubio staring at his backyard in perplexity as it sinks beneath the Atlantic.

But for those inclined to see Rubio as a human windsock, Ted Cruz is made of sterner stuff. With his usual ferocity, he denounces climate science as a front for "power-greedy politicians" who want to control the energy industry. As for the scientists themselves, these "global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat earthers." And Cruz? He is, well, the modern Galileo in his intellectual bravery -- "It used to be it was accepted scientific wisdom that the Earth was flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier."

Here we pause for some corrective science. First, Galileo had nothing to do with refuting flat earth theory. Second, his actual belief -- that the earth revolves around the sun -- was supported by scientists but opposed by the Catholic Church as heresy. No surprise, then, is Cruz' stunningly counterfactual insistence that "satellite data demonstrates for the last 17 years there has been zero warming."

It is cold comfort that Rubio and Cruz are nowhere near that clueless, because their reality is so much worse. They signed a pledge to "oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenues" for the simplest of reasons: the Koch brothers wrote it. Which returns us to the brave new world of Citizens United.

The Kochs' many billions are rooted in the fossil fuel industry; after Citizens United, the only limit on the brothers' political spending is their estimate of how much it takes to purchase their own president. And they are vehement climate deniers. In recent years, they have poured an estimated $79 million into front groups which oppose climate legislation. Now the Koch funding network has pledged nearly $900 million to elect their candidates in 2016 -- more than double the amount spent by the Republican National Committee in 2012.

In sheer seductive power, this pending windfall dwarfs the $15 million Cruz' Super PAC received from two billionaire frackers, the Wilkes brothers, in appreciation of his proposal to ban federal regulation of greenhouse gases. So it is also unsurprising that Rubio, Cruz and other candidates flock like lemmings to conferences held by the Kochs' donor network, or that Rubio would "love to earn their support" because, after all, "we are clearly aligned on issues." No doubt that is why he is deemed the favorite to receive the Koch brothers' ultra-lucrative anointment -- Marco Rubio will never, ever be out of alignment.

Indeed Rubio has already hit pay dirt -- three days ago, New York venture capitalist Paul Singer, the epicenter of a huge soft money network, pledged the senator his support. As it happens, Singer also helps fund a foundation which castigates climate science as "utopian alarmism." At whatever cost to the planet, Rubio and Cruz will keep on fighting to outdo each other in assuring Republican voters that climate science is a luxury and a fraud, the better to propitiate their wealthy patrons.

In a more innocent time, Daniel Patrick Moynihan adjured, "You're entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts." No more. In post-Citizens United America, billionaires can not only buy their own facts, but their own environment.

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