22 December 2018
PREMONT, Texas — Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), a leading climate skeptic, is leaving Congress after earning between $1.2 million and $3.9 million in oil revenue since the 1980s.
When I lived in Washington DC in the early 1980's, I'd occasionally stroll down to the Mall to see the then-new Vietnam War Memorial.
Tourists and grieving families would peruse the V-shaped wall to find names of loved ones, or just ponder America's most tragic war.
Another fixture at the Memorial were Vietnam vets, then mostly in their forties and wearing tattered, genuine combat fatigues, pressing the case that some of their buddies were still being held in tiger cages in Hanoi.
When I returned to work in DC in 2010, I was astonished to see many of the same vets still there, now in their seventies but still convinced that buddies were alive and imprisoned nearly a half century later. Not a whiff of evidence had surfaced in the intervening decades to support their beliefs, but they persist.
It's no different than the uniquely American battle over guns, where this country's consistent, tragic mass shooting events can't sway tens of millions of us that there may be a problem. Or the multiple theories about President Obama as a Kenyan-born, madrasa educated closet Muslim/Nazi/Communist. Or the anti-vaccine movement, birthed on a retracted paper published by a thoroughly discredited researcher.
Moral of the story: Rigid beliefs die hard, or not at all.
Over those same decades, there has been a persistent and logical belief that climate denial would be crushed by the weight of science, on-the-ground evidence, and simple common sense. While denial may have withered a bit – its most prominent advocates don't get booked on network TV any more, except for Fox News – it's here to stay.
Echoing a persistently wrong theme, the web publication Business Green ran a year-end op-ed in December declaring 2017 to be "The Year That Climate Denial Died."
I don't think so.
Lamar Smith (R-Texas). Credit: NASA
In the contentious 2018 midterm elections, while the Democrats could make some gains and possibly monkey-wrench Trump's rollbacks by reclaiming majorities in Congress, climate isn't a factor.
General revulsion to Trump's policies and personality is hardening America into a sharply divided land of Trump haters and Trump zealots. But those policies and personality are holding him relatively steady at about 40 percent support among Americans, and nearly 90 percent support among Republicans. Few GOP representatives or Senators seem poised to challenge him.
A few key Congressional deniers are retiring at the end of the year, notably Lamar Smith, who has used his chairmanship of the House Science Committee as a blunt instrument against science; and "Smoky Joe" Barton, a fellow Texan who in 2010 apologized to BP for alleged rough treatment by the Obama Administration after the largest offshore oil spill ever.
But many, many more are staying. Jim Inhofe, a spry 83 years old, hasn't yet said whether he'll run again in 2020. If he does, there's no reason to believe that the king of Senate climate denial won't reprise his 40 percentage point victory in 2014.
John Barrasso's seat is just as safe. The gentleman from the Wyoming coalfields won his second term by a three-to-one margin, and is running for his third in November. Unless the Democrats stun the political world by wresting control of the Senate, Barrasso will likely continue as Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Inhofe and Barrasso have dozens of ideological soulmates in the House and Senate. John Shimkus, who is given to citing the Book of Genesis as proof that climate change is impossible, won by three to one in 2014 and ran unopposed two years later. He has a longshot opponent this year.
On the non-government side, the Heartland Institute staff — infamous for their billboard linking climate scientists or activists to the Unabomber and Osama bin Laden—now must remove their tinfoil hats while passing through White House metal detectors to advise the Administration.
Former Inhofe aide Marc Morano has seen his media profile shrink, but he still leads a cadre of deniers who accuse climate scientists of only being in it for the money. According to recent IRS filings, Morano's employer pays him a base salary of $188,000.
So the moral of this story is that climate denial may not be growing, but it's a fool's errand to think that it will vanish any time soon. Climate change is showing us its real costs every day and clean energy is finally taking off, but denial lives in the highest levels of American government .
And denial will continue to thwart, or at least slow, progress.
ATLANTA—In the off-year 2017 elections, Doug Jones was just the Dreamland candidate for Southern Democrats' comeback.
Relatively telegenic and a civil rights prosecutor, Jones faced the best odds an Alabama Democrat had in years: His Republican opponent, Roy Moore, had twice been bounced from the Alabama Supreme Court for ignoring Constitutional mandates. And Moore was buried in a dozen complaints that he trolled, stalked, or groped young women decades earlier.
Although Moore denied all accusations, his campaign wallowed in an epic pit of creepiness.
The relatively unassailable Jones managed a 1.7 percent victory for a partial-term Senate seat he'll be hard-pressed to keep in 2020.
One-point-seven percent, over a guy dragging credible child molestation charges to the polls. That may well be the pinnacle of the Democrats' revival in the Confederate states. Trumpian rhetoric on immigration and re-ignition of controversies over Civil War statues and symbols poll well here, thrusting hot-button issues from the 20th and 19th Centuries into a 21st Century template.
And Jones isn't alone. There are few races in the South that offer any hope of flipping either US chamber away from anti-environmental regulatory rollback agendas, or appointments of anti-regulatory judges.
In Tennessee, Rep. Marsha Blackburn stands a good chance of succeeding retiring fellow Republican Senator Bob Corker. Blackburn's green credentials include a fierce fight against energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulbs as well as a fierce fight for climate denial.
A few other hardcore climate deniers are quitting, but their seats are a virtual lock to stay in GOP hands. Rep. "Smoky Joe" Barton was the guy who offered a House Floor apology to BP after what he saw as rough treatment by the Obama Administration following BP's 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
And fellow Texan Lamar Smith turned his Chairmanship of the House Science Committee into a years-long inquisition into climate science. Their departures will impact climate denial seniority, but not climate denial numbers.
Many environmental advocates are banking on the uphill battle of Stacey Abrams, former Georgia House Minority Leader, to defeat Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Incumbent Florida Senator Bill Nelson may be fiercely challenged by Tea Party Governor Rick Scott, who currently has a slim polling lead. A Scott victory could nullify any Democratic hopes for a US Senate takeover.
And continued GOP control over statehouses and legislatures could stop clean energy's advance in its tracks down here.
Environmental Protection Agency political staffers have been working to internally replicate through agency action a bill that would restrict the kind of science that the EPA can use when writing regulations, internal emails show.
The painkiller, taken by half of pregnant women worldwide, could be contributing to rising rates of reproductive system problems and neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD and autism.
"If we look at the rate of carbon emissions, most is emitted by the developed and industrialized countries, but the problem is poor countries like Bangladesh are the main sufferers."
Working with youth writers on a climate-fiction screenplay has opened my eyes to the power of the arts in confronting environmental crises.