Barring a miraculous revival of the fortunes of Jon Huntsman, Republicans this year will, for the first time, elect a presidential nominee who does not believe that humans are responsible for global warming. How did things get this bad?
One can also dredge up a few brave souls who are trying to make difference at the GOP’s grassroots, groups like Republicans for Environmental Responsibility. This particular collection of oddballs supports want:
- Clean air and water
- Food free from harmful chemicals
- Clean, efficient businesses & industries
- A high quality of life in our cities & rural communities
- Strong, results-oriented enforcement of environmental laws
- Economic development for communities without the ravages of sprawl
- High priority for funding of natural resource stewardship & environmental protection
- Protection for posterity of our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, wild lands & waters
- Effective legal protection for threatened & endangered plants & animals in their native habitats
There is some evidence that such beliefs aren’t unusual among average Republicans. The latest Yale survey on the subject found that
90 percent of Americans say developing sources of clean energy should be a very high (30%), high (35%), or medium (25%) priority for the president and Congress, including 82 percent of registered Republicans, 91 percent of Independents, and 97 percent of Democrats.
Although from the same poll we learn that only 44 percent of registered Republicans say global warming should be a very high priority, it’s still clear that opposition to reasonable, science-based policy is far from a fringe position in the GOP community at large.
The REP website says its members “support and vote for Republican elected officials and candidates who share these values and concerns.” The near total absence of GOP candidate and opinion leaders who share those values and concerns should pose a problem for Republicans. At least among those who have made respect for science a higher priority than a candidate’s position on gay marriage or abortion. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. One it tempted to conclude that Republicans are just plain stupid.
But as Naomi Klein convincingly argues, the think tankers, pundits, and party leaders who carved out an anti-intellectual campaign plank on climate change didn’t do so because they’re too stupid to understand the implications of anthropogenic global warming. On the contrary, they did it because they understand all too well what forestalling dangerous changes to the planet’s climate will require. And in that threat to unbridled capitalism they saw an an opportunity to galvanize an electorate for whom the free market is sacred.
Meanwhile, the polls tell us that, despite their reluctance to embrace the science behind climate change change, a significant number of Republican voters do understand the need to make the switch to clean, renewable power. They’re not stupid, either.
And yet here we are facing an election in which it is virtually guaranteed that the nominee of one of the two major parties will deny the reality of the most serious public policy challenge of our time. So what GOP voters say they care about hasn’t found a translation vector for the presidential nomination system.
A lot of teeth are gnashing over this incongruity. But I don’t see it as all that unusual. The vast majority of Americans support health care insurance reform and a majority even want to see a public insurance option, but what emerged from Congress was more a sop to establishment private insurance corporations than anything else. It practically guarantees a collapse of the system within a decade or two as costs continue to spiral out of control. Half the states are challenging the constitutionality of the universal mandate without which the new law cannot function.
Most Americans support gay marriage and most are on the pro-choice side of the abortion debate, and yet most states are mired debates that see little to no progress on either issue and in some cases, rights are being whittle away.
Chris Mooney will have a lot say in a forthcoming book about just what has gone wrong. He calls it The Republican Brain. But I suspect the problem isn’t restricted to climate change or science — or Republicans, for that matter — and if we focus on that particular problem, we’ll fail. We have to look at the underlying cause, which probably has a lot more to do with election campaign financing and lobbying that any deep-seated hostility to the principles of Enlightenment thinking.
Yes, there is a significant minority of crazies out there and most members of that demographic slice seem to have registered as Republicans. But I remain hopeful that they are not the majority, and that if only we can turn our attention to the larger issues, the ones Klein talks about, there remains a chance of reviving a democratic system in which the leaders do actually represent the people.
Of course, by then, it will probably be too late to do much about the climate but sit around and wait for the Singularity to save us. Oh well.