A few days ago, Republican Senator James Inhofe delivered a speech about why no intelligent person should ever vote for the Republican Party. This was not, obviously, the putative subject of his speech, merely its subtext and inescapable conclusion.
Inhofe tried to make the case that global warming is fake because it is currently very cold. This is not even true. (It is unusually cold in the Eastern United States, but the planet on the whole is having an unusually warm year.) Even if it were true, it would be irrelevant, because the theory of anthropogenic global warming predicts a jagged, long-term rise in temperature, rather than a continuous one. (This year in Washington, D.C., February is colder than January, but it does not refute the general trend for the city to face warmer temperatures in February than January.) Inhofe’s argument was breathtakingly devoid of a factual or logical grasp of its subject matter.
It would be alarming enough if Inhofe were merely one of 54 elected Republican U.S. Senators. In fact, he chairs the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works. The implications of this go well beyond the simple reality that an Inhofe-chaired committee is unlikely to pass well-designed environmental legislation. We live in an era of party government, where presidents ratify decisions within narrow parameters set by their fellow partisans. Any Republican environmental policy will be shaped in a context where the views of James Inhofe are, at minimum, treated with respect.
Inhofe’s views lie perfectly within the mainstream of Republican thought. At a House committee this week, Steve Scalise, a member of the leadership, asserted, “I know the president loves talking about global warming — and they’re canceling flights all around the country due to snow blizzards.” That’ll show him! Obviously climate scientists never predicted the possibility of snow storms in Boston.
Jeb Bush, who has positioned himself as the most pragmatic Republican candidate, has questioned the validity of climate science:
I’m a skeptic. I’m not a scientist. I think the science has been politicized. I would be very wary of hollowing out our industrial base even further… It may be only partially man-made. It may not be warming by the way. The last six years we’ve actually had mean temperatures that are cooler.
Bush prefers to frame his position in terms of economic growth. Taken at face value, Bush’s position is that the balance between economic growth and environmental quality should be 100 to 0. Even trivial costs are intolerable.
Of course, the design of environmental regulation, or the appropriate balance between economic cost and clean air, is a subject on which reasonable people can disagree. But the modern Republican party (as opposed to the one of a generation ago) is structurally incapable of reasonable disagreement or calculus. Cranks like Inhofe have veto power. Even if Bush were inclined to disagree, and we have no evidence he is, he can’t. And so a stunt like Inhofe tossing a snowball on the Senate floor and claiming this refutes climate science actually tells you everything you need to know about giving the Republican Party power over government policy.