State of denial: GOP climate change doubts defy logic

The initials GOP are generally believed to stand for Grand Old Party, alias the Republicans. But after reviewing comments made by Republican legislators this week on Montana’s efforts to address global warming, perhaps GOP should now stand for the Goofy Ostriches Party, since sticking your head in the sand and ignoring reality seems to be the Republicans’ preferred approach to dealing with the increasing impacts of global warming.

The level of denial regarding global warming by the Bush administration has been well known and well documented for a long time. While a vast preponderance of the world’s most eminent scientists warned of the increasingly severe impacts from the emission of greenhouse gases, President Bush put on his happy face to tell us everything was hunky-dory. When reports from his own agencies began confirming what the rest of the world already knew, he simply instructed his politically appointed minions to remove the offending language, thus maintaining the charade that his crumbling policies were working. A few taps on the delete key, and voilà, Americans lived on in what the Bushies figured would be the bliss of ignorance.

Maybe because Bush and his people work in air-conditioned offices in big cities, one could rationalize their actions as simply being out of touch with the real world, where the impacts from global warming are all too evident. But even if you accepted that lame excuse, it has little application to Montana’s Republicans, who have lived with the crop-shriveling drought, the record-setting high temperatures of the last decade, and the smoke-filled skies from forests where live trees have lower moisture levels than kiln-dried lumber.

The obvious question then is why, when given the opportunity to begin taking action—based on 54 recommendations from the climate change advisory committee—Republican legislators on the state’s Environmental Quality Council reacted with such negativity and denial?

As an example, take the words of Kalispell Republican, Rep. Craig Witte, who steadfastly maintains that global warming is based on “junk science.” Or this insightful quote from Laurel’s Republican state Senator Dan McGee: “This is all flawed and it’s based on flawed everything. This is a lie.”

Or even Victor Republican Senator Jim Shockley, whom I have praised in this column for his dedicated battle to maintain public access to the Mitchell Slough. This week, Shockley basically blew off human-caused effects by telling the committee that if greenhouse gases from industrial activities were causing global warming, we should have seen a hotter environment back in the 1800’s.

In what appears to be a short in Shockley’s normal logic circuits, he simply discounts the cumulative effects from global deforestation and massive new industrialization in societies such as India and China. Whacking down mile after square mile of forest (think Amazon here, folks) obviously eliminates the ability of those trees to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Meanwhile, globalized trade has vastly increased both the fuel consumption and concurrent greenhouse gas pollution. Incredibly huge container ships ply the oceans, while trains and trucks crisscross the continents and planes spew exhaust directly into the fragile upper atmosphere. Times have changed, and so have the effects on the global environment.

What’s even more puzzling is how and why global warming has become a partisan issue in Washington and here at home.

Virtually all the Democrats on the Environmental Quality Council embraced the efforts of the Climate Change Advisory Committee while the Republicans simply challenged the foundational science and evidence.

Some say Republicans are opposed to dealing with—or even acknowledging—global warming impacts because they fear the associated costs. Unfortunately, fear gets us nowhere fast. What about the costs of not dealing with the problem—such as runaway firefighting budgets and lost crops? Don’t those costs accrue to Montanans whether or not they accept the science of global warming? And how can Republicans fail to notice that new coal-fired power plants are on the rocks nationwide—not because of environmentalists or Democrats, but because financial institutions have decided that new coal plants are a losing proposition, owing to their greenhouse gas emissions and a future federal carbon tax? Contrary to Montana’s Republican legislators, financial institutions are heading off foreseeable costs by simply refusing to make loans to polluting plants.

Ironically, while the Republican ostriches were burying their collective heads in the sand, Gov. Brian Schweitzer was hosting U.N. ambassadors from Denmark, Finland, Iraq and Thailand. Their mission is to find out why individual U.S. states are moving forward with measures to address climate change while the federal government remains obstinately inert. Some might argue that if Schweitzer was so committed to “clean and green” energy, he should have personally appeared in front of the Environmental Quality Council and endorsed the recommendations of the Climate Change Advisory Committee, instead of hobnobbing with the ambassadors. On the other hand, had those ambassadors seen our Republican legislators “in action” on climate change, I suspect they would have high-tailed it out of Montana with a considerably less favorable impression of state efforts.

Denial is not a river in Egypt—it is, apparently, a Republican state of mind in regard to global warming. But since recent statewide polls show 62 percent of Montanans are concerned about global warming impacts, perhaps there’s something we can do. This summer, when you can’t go into the forest because it’s closed, when you can’t go fishing because the rivers are dried up, when smoke fills the air and turns the sun to a red ball in the sky, remember it was the Republicans who turned aside opportunities to deal with global warming. Then, come November, you can thank them for their foresight by voting for someone else, thus bringing the “costs” Republicans profess to be concerned about home to roost, right where they belong.

Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com
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