The Dangers of Denial: Climate Change and the American Right

A calfing glacier in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Len Radin

A calfing glacier in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
Photo courtesy of Len Radin

By Sean Butler

On Monday, March 10, and the morning of Tuesday, March 11, a caucus of United States senators pulled an all-nighter. These 28 senators spoke for more than 20 hours on the current and potential future impact of man-made climate change on their home states, the United States,  and the world at large. Perhaps unsurprisingly, all 28 participating senators were either Democrats or independent liberals who caucus with the Democrats. The Senate’s entire Republican delegation declined to participate. Acknowledging the unwillingness of his Republican colleagues to participate in the event, independent Angus King from Maine said, “I rise tonight in puzzlement as to how this became a partisan issue. It’s a scientific issue.” Republican unwillingness to acknowledge the reality of climate change is detrimental to civil debate and detrimental to progress.

That climate change is an issue neatly split down the aisle in both houses of congress is the kind of absurd reality only possible in the world of politics. Unlike other hot-button issues like abortion, gay rights, or fiscal policy, the right’s systematic denial of climate change is not a matter of divergent opinions or differing interpretations. The argument against climate change is an argument against cold, hard, scientific fact.

2013 was a watershed year for data collected on climate change. In September, a multinational United Nations climate report stated that human activity was responsible for more than “half of the observed increase in global average surface temperatures since the 1950s.” The UN report also states that 13 of the 14 warmest winters on record (over 160 years) have taken place in the 21st century. Polar vortex or no polar vortex, numbers do not lie.

One would think that in the face of such scientific data, debates about the issue of climate change would be debates about the specifics of policy, with lawmakers discussing how to best address the growing specter of a warming planet. Instead, Republicans and Tea Party members have deployed denial and ad hominem attacks against the scientific community and environmental activists. Speaking recently at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Alex Epstein, founder of the Center for Industrial Progress, accused those linking climate change to human activity of “human racism.” Rather than consider a conservative solution to our climate crisis, this CPAC panel was entitled “Can America Survive Obama’s War On Fossil Fuel?” Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell blasted the Senate all-nighter as “30 hours of excuses.” This kind of rhetoric, pulled from both the extreme and mainstream wings of the Republican party, is not only detrimental to civil debate on the issue, it ignores the very concept of debate, replacing it with a sophomoric chorus of defiance and accusation.

This antagonistic tone is emblematic of the right’s habit of linking the environmental movement with fictitious visions of President Obama’s wars on “Big Oil” and “Big Coal,” two industries to which conservatives have financial and ideological ties. Absent from the Republicans’ position on the subject is a discussion about proactive solutions to climate change. These solutions could include expansions in the field of green energy, producing thousands of new jobs and diversifying the energy portfolio of the United States.

Unfortunately for Republicans and the other naysayers, history has a way of separating truth from falsehood. Despite the protests of the Vatican, Galileo was right that the earth was not the center of the universe, and the state of Tennessee was wrong for punishing John Scopes for teaching evolution in his classroom. Does the Republican Party want to be known as those who ignored the greatest threat to humanity’s existence on this earth in recent memory? I would hope not. It’s time for the denial to stop and for those in office to face the overwhelming factual evidence. Perhaps then we can begin discussing how to fix this historic mess in which we find ourselves.



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  1. “The argument against climate change is an argument against cold, hard, scientific fact.”

    You mean like the cold hard scientific fact that there has been no warming for the last 17.5 years? That’s half the time that global temperature data have been collected by satellites.

    After 16 years of silence, even the UN IPCC had to finally acknowledge it. After all, to ignore 17.5 years of no warming would make one a climate science denier.

    Watching alarmists squirm whenever the 17.5 year pause is mentioned, is just so much fun.


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