Major climate science reports usually pass by largely unnoticed, but in the wake of the latest IPCC report a number of journalists laudably grilled Republican lawmakers about its findings. While their responses were predictably terrible, it’s nevertheless crucial for journalists to hold GOP politicians accountable for their climate denial and policy inaction. Donald Trump’s answers were particularly ignorant and nonsensical in his 60 Minutes interview with Lesley Stahl.
Welcome to Stage 2 climate denial
None of the Republicans exhibited Stage 1 climate denial (denying that it’s happening), but several remain in Stage 2 (denying humans are responsible). Trump was the worst of the lot, telling Stahl:
Something’s happening [with the climate] and it’ll change back again … I don’t know that it’s manmade.
Earth’s climate isn’t magical. Each of its changes has physical causes and will only “change back” if something causes them to do so. Trump’s claim is akin to arguing that if he gains 50 lbs by eating McDonald’s fast food every day he’ll eventually ‘change back’ to his less obese self. Doing so would require a physical cause, like a change in diet. Fossil fuels are the climate’s greasy fast food.
Similarly, Trump’s top economic advisor Larry Kudlow said to George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week :
Water scarcity encourages people to transport water long distances and store supplies in their homes. This can increase the risk of household water contamination, causing illnesses.
how much of [climate change] is manmade, how much of it is solar, how much of it is oceanic, how much of it is rain forest and other issues? I think we’re still exploring all of that.
I can’t tell you to what percentage of [climate change] is due to human activity
Climate scientists can. It’s 100% since 1950.
This is settled science, about which there’s a 97% expert consensus. But of course, Republican politicians prefer the beliefs of the less than 3% of contrarian climate scientists.
Republicans have their own “scientists”
When Stahl pressed Trump on the conclusions of expert climate scientists, Trump cited some “scientists” whose s he prefers.
We have scientists that disagree with [human-caused global warming] … You’d have to show me the [mainstream] scientists because they have a very big political agenda
The only ‘political agenda’ of the climate scientists writing the IPCC reports is to accurately communicate our understanding of climate science to policymakers. The latest IPCC report cited over 6,000 scientific studies . Marco Rubio used the same tactic as Trump, saying:
And I think many scientists would debate what percentage is attributable to man versus normal fluctuations
Trump’s Fox friends also echoed this sentiment:
In the Amazon, 1% of tree species sequester 50% of the region’s carbon.
There are of course “other scientists.” The question is why we should believe the tiny minority of contrarians are right and the 97% of climate science experts who are convinced by the evidence that humans are driving global warming are wrong.
For example, one of deniers’ favorite contrarian scientists is Richard Lindzen , formerly of MIT. Last week, Lindzen told the Daily Mail “Warming of any significance ceased about 20 years ago.” That’s Stage 1 climate denial and a ludicrously wrong assertion:
So yes, there are scientists who disagree with the magnitude of the human contribution to global warming. And those scientists often deny even the most basic facts and data. They’re the fringe who reject the vast majority of the available scientific evidence.
Republicans deny basic economics too
After denying that we know humans are driving climate change, the Republican politicians shifted to economics denial, with Trump again the worst of all:
The average surface temperature of the earth is rising. That doesn't mean it's rising everywhere, and it doesn't mean the temperature rise is responsible for every significant weather event.
I don’t want to give trillions and trillions of dollars. I don’t want to lose millions and millions of jobs. I don’t want to be put at a disadvantage.
Rubio similarly said “I’m also not going to destroy our economy.” But Trump and Rubio seem to think that any efforts to cut carbon pollution will destroy the economy, and that’s just willful ignorance. As Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) said :
We ought to be talking about the things that we can do and still maintain a strong economy, because we’re not going to be able to address it unless we keep a strong economy
Rounds is right. Republicans ought to be looking for policies to address climate change that will maintain a strong economy. But with a few exceptions, they (including Mike Rounds, who’s voted against the climate 100% of the time ) are not. Kudlow noted:
Bill Nordhaus from Yale got a Nobel Prize on his own economic work with respect to climate change … I respect that he’s a really brilliant guy.
In 2012, Nordhaus wrote an editorial entitled, “ Why the Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong .” In that piece, he noted:
the cost of waiting fifty years to begin reducing CO2 emissions … is $4.1 trillion … Current economic studies also suggest that the most efficient policy is to raise the cost of CO2 emissions substantially, either through cap-and-trade or carbon taxes … The claim that cap-and-trade legislation or carbon taxes would be ruinous or disastrous to our societies does not stand up to serious economic analysis.
It’s ironic that Trump says he’s worried about losing trillions of dollars as the economist who his top economic advisor cites as a brilliant expert says that waiting to cut carbon pollution would cost trillions of dollars.
Malnutrition causes millions of deaths each year, from both a lack of sufficient nutrients to sustain life and a resulting vulnerability to infectious diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea, and respiratory illnesses. Increasing temperatures on the planet and more variable rainfalls are expected to reduce crop yields in many tropical developing regions, where food security is already a problem.
The latest IPCC report cited a study finding that 1.5°C global warming would lead to climate damage costs of $54tn, 2°C of $69tn, and 3.7°C of $551tn. We’re currently on track for 3.4°C warming by 2100 , and the Trump administration is doing everything in its power to increase carbon pollution and global warming. For perspective, the $551tn estimated cost of climate damages at 3.7°C far exceeds the current global wealth of around $100tn .
On the other hand, climate policies need not be expensive. Studies have shown that a revenue-neutral carbon tax could grow the economy and create jobs, for example. And as California has demonstrated, smart climate policies are entirely compatible with economic growth.
And while economics is less precise than science, here is another for balance: Stanford University researchers this year found that meeting the goals of the Paris deal would save the world tens of trillions of dollars in avoided climate damages, far outweighing most estimated costs.Science and politicsWhat Mr. Trump said“Look, scientists also have a political agenda.”Asked about scientists who say hurricanes and other extreme weather events are worsening, Mr. Trump replied, “You’d have to show me the scientists because they have a very big political agenda.”The factsScientists dispute that.No doubt climate change has become politicized.
The GOP needs to adapt or suffer
George Stephanopoulos also asked Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) if Republicans are going the wrong direction on climate change. Flake responded:
I think so … but there are things that we can do and should do and I think Republicans need to be at the forefront if we want to keep our place and keep our seats
While Flake is right, his climate voting record is almost as bad as Mike Rounds’ and on par with Marco Rubio’s . They all voted to confirm Scott Pruitt to head the EPA, tried to block the Clean Power Plan, voted against establishing a climate change education grant program in American schools, and voted against an amendment acknowledging that climate change is real and that man-made pollution is a significant contributor.
Flake is notorious for sounding reasonable and then refusing to use his considerable power to act on those reasonable comments. He’s all talk and no action. But he’s right that if the GOP remains the stupid party of climate denial, it will suffer long-term electoral consequences.
More intense and longer droughts have been observed over wider areas since the 1970s, particularly in the tropics and subtropics.
Marco Rubio tried to sound like a reasonable voice on climate change despite his science denial by pointing to legislation he’s helped advance on sea level rise adaptation. But as renowned glaciologist Lonnie Thompson put it , “the only question is how much we will mitigate, adapt, and suffer.” We certainly will have to adapt to and suffer some serious climate change consequences, but the more we mitigate the problem up front by cutting carbon pollution, the less we’ll need to adapt and suffer.
Today’s GOP has gone all in on maximizing climate suffering.