The dangers of climate-change denialism

Fred Hiatt discusses the predilection of current Republican officeholders to engage in fantasy in an excellent column in this morning’s Washington Post. He talks about the mostly harmless but bizarre fantasies – such as the belief that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States. But there are more harmful fantasies – such as the belief that taxes should only go down, never up or that the overwhelming scientific consensus that mankind is contributing to global warming doesn’t exist.

As Hiatt points out, it was not so long ago that the Republican leadership acknowledged the seriousness of climate change and agreed with the need for a cap-and-trade policy (a conservative, market-driven solution, by the way) to deal with it. This may be hard to remember, but the McCain-Palin ticket endorsed a cap-and-trade proposal, saying it would “harnesses human ingenuity in the pursuit of alternatives to carbon-based fuels.”

By 2010, every single Republican contender for the U.S. Senate was a climate-change denier. In 2011, the House Energy and Climate Committee rejected an amendment acknowledging the scientific consensus that global warming, caused by man, is happening and poses a major threat.

And the candidates lining up for the Republican nomination for president in 2012 are running from any previous support they may have had for cap-and-trade or other ways to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Hiatt singles out Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who once supported cap-and-trade and does at least admit the climate is warming. But when Hiatt asked him recently if mankind contributed, his office said that was unknown, even though, as Hiatt put it, if you ask 1,000 scientists, 998 would say human activity was a large contributor to warming. As Hiatt summed up:

Does Pawlenty believe what he says now? I’ve spoken with the former Minnesota governor. I know he is a smart man. As recently as 2008 he was supporting congressional action to limit greenhouse gas emissions. I do not believe that he believes those 998 scientists are wrong.

Which leads to another question: Should we feel better if a possible future president is not ignorant about the preeminent environmental danger facing our planet, but only calculating or cowardly?

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