the national interest

Why Climate-Science Denialism Should Disqualify Anyone From Holding Office

A plume of exhaust extends from the Mitchell Power Station, a coal-fired power plant built along the Monongahela River, 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, on September 24, 2013 in New Eagle, Pennsylvania.
It’s arrogant liberalism to believe that releasing these gases into the atmosphere might change the composition of gases in the atmosphere. Photo: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Last night, an event rapidly transpired in Washington that, while routine, was also so utterly lunatic it bears reconsideration. During a series of votes on the Keystone Pipeline, Senate Democrats proposed an amendment affirming that “human activity significantly contributes to climate change.” The amendment failed because only five Republican Senators supported it. Media coverage largely focused on the political machinations of both sides attempting to frame dueling votes in their preferred language. Yet the outcome of the vote reveals something profound and disturbing.

The Senate drama revolved around the Republican plan to hold a vote conceding that climate change itself is real, but — in keeping with the bizarre ramblings of climate-science skeptics — that it is all happening naturally. “Man cannot change climate,” James Inhofe declared. “The hoax is that there are some people that are so arrogant to think that they are so powerful that they can change climate.”

It is familiar, and yet worth reemphasizing, that Inhofe is not a random kook wearing a sandwich board who managed to slip past the Senate’s security guards, but a senator and the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. This is his stated belief: It is not even possible for human activity to contribute to climate change. It is arrogant to think so.

It is hard to imagine how such a bizarre conclusion could survive even a mind as primitive as Inhofe’s. To believe that human activity contributes to climate change, you need to believe two things. One, that certain gases trap higher levels of heat than other gases. Second, that burning fuel containing those heat-trapping gases releases them into the atmosphere. Which one of those beliefs is arrogant?

Inhofe not only maintains control of the chief environmental committee in the upper chamber, but also managed to hold 90 percent of his party with him on a vote to affirm his deranged beliefs. A recent Washington Examiner article found that, even among the small faction of Republicans seeking to form a compromise on environmental policy, almost none of them actually share the conclusions of scientific authorities. This quote from a Republican aide is astounding:

I do think there are those [who] think there is some kind of climate change happening and are tired of fighting the science or just don’t want the fight and who would rather focus on the economics — I don’t think that means they are ceding the argument that manmade climate change exists, though,” said one Republican Senate aide in a comment echoed by several others.

Even the moderates won’t concede that climate science is real! This was a comment “echoed by several others”!

The media’s instinct is to dismiss votes like those from last night as mere gestures in empty symbolism. Yet, while the vote did not change any policy outcomes, it ought to carry far more weight than a simple message vote. Or, rather, the message is of the highest importance. The Republican Party confidently and forthrightly rejects the firm conclusions of science on a major public-policy question. Isn’t that a completely disqualifying position? If a candidate for a managerial job at your office insists that two plus three equals seven, it wouldn’t matter how well-qualified this candidate may be at any other aspect of the job. Even if you agreed with everything else the Republicans stood for, how could a party so obviously unhinged be entrusted with power?

Denialism Should Disqualify Anyone From Office