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Republican politicians aren't climate scientists or responsible leaders

Posted on 28 October 2014 by dana1981

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is hoping to become the Senate Majority Leader after the forthcoming election on November 4th, although despite hailing from conservative Kentucky, McConnell is in a very tight race. The Cincinnati Enquirer editorial board recently had a long discussion with McConnell and tried to pin him down on the subject of global warming.

McConnell wouldn’t directly answer whether he believes in climate change.

Enquirer’s editorial board volleyed several questions about what it would take to convince him of climate change. He turned the subject every time to jobs. McConnell said he believes imposing regulations to reduce greenhouse gases blamed for climate change would only hurt America and not mitigate what other countries, such as China, are doing...

“We can debate this forever,” McConnell said. “George Will had a column in the last year or so pointing out that in the 70s, we were concerned the ice age was coming. I’m not a scientist. I’m interested in protecting Kentucky’s economy.”

Leaving aside McConnell’s reference to the 1970s ice age myth, the cop-out about not being a scientist is a strange and dangerous one. Most members of Congress aren’t scientists, or doctors, or military experts, or teachers, and yet they set our country’s science, health care, defense, and education policy. Usually they do this by listening to the experts in each subject, which is the smart approach.

For example, as Lee Papa has pointed out, McConnell had no hesitations in expressing his opinions about dealing with the threat of Ebola and deferring to the experts at the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),

I’m not an expert on this, but it strikes me that it would be a good idea to discontinue flights into the United States from that part of the world ... I think we ought to listen to what the CDC thinks they need either in terms of financing or certainly they’ll decide the procedures for travel and all the rest. I think we need to follow the advice of the experts who know how to fight scourges like this

These comments stand in stark contrast to McConnell’s unwillingness to take a position on human-caused global warming, or to listen to the climate scientist experts on the subject.

McConnell is far from alone – this refrain has become one of the most popular responses among Republican politicians when asked about the climate. “I’m not a scientist” is used to abdicate responsibility for mitigating the immense risks posed by climate change. This abdication would be considered unacceptable in the face of other threats like ISIS and Ebola, and the same should be true for global warming.

When it comes to climate change, the expert consensus is clear. Humans are causing global warming, and the resulting climate changes (more damaging extreme weather, for example) on the whole are harmful and dangerous. There are ways to reduce carbon pollution at a lower cost than paying for the immense damages caused by unabated climate change. In fact, there are small government, free market solutions that appeal to political conservatives and would reduce carbon pollution while growing the economy.

The good news is that the Democratic Party is taking climate change seriously. President Obama has shown strong leadership on the issue in his second term, Democratic Senators are drawing increasing attention to it, and many Democratic candidates running for office are speaking up about the need for climate action. Climate Hawks Vote has a good list of those candidates.

Unfortunately, many Republican politicians receive substantial campaign funding from fossil fuel companies. Many also rely on the most conservative Americans as their voting base, and those voters have been misinformed about climate change by the conservative media.

Because of that media bias, climate change is treated as a political, cultural, and ideological topic in the United States instead of a scientific and risk management issue. In the rare case where Republican politicians show responsible leadership in trying to tackle global warming, their jobs are threatened. Thus rather than showing leadership to address our greatest long-term threat, Republican politicians resort to abdicating responsibility.

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Comments 51 to 72 out of 72:

  1. Donny said "If we reduce our co2 emissions by reducing the amount of energy we use and try and institute new energy forms.... there will be sacrifices.... birds and wind mills"

    I assume you propose to knock down all buildings and kill all pet cats?

    All of which are much greater causes of bird fatalities than wind turbines.
    You appear to be the subject of the usual misinformation.

    Pet cats for instance kill about 1060 times more birds than wind turbines.

    FYI regarding bird fatalities

    Wind Turbines less than 0.01%
    Buildings about 58%

    So I suggest maybe you need to live in a tent.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Please keep it civil.

  2. From the facetious response of Donny, I would conclude:

    Donny prefers ignorance of problems to information that challenges his preferences

    Is prepared only to consider technological solutions. I am guessing Donny is not prepared to consider what to do politically if alternatives are more expensive than even unsubsidized FF.

    I would strongly suspect that Donny is not interested in any information which would imply taking higher immediate personal cost to avert future cost. In short, ideologically-driven pseudo-skepticism. DNFTT.

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  3. Moderator's Comment


    Please note that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right. This privilege can and will be rescinded if the posting individual continues to treat adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum.

    Moderating this site is a tiresome chore, particularly when commentators repeatedly submit offensive, off-topic posts or intentionally misleading comments and graphics or simply make things up. We really appreciate people's cooperation in abiding by the Comments Policy, which is largely responsible for the quality of this site.

    Finally, please understand that moderation policies are not open for discussion. If you find yourself incapable of abiding by these common set of rules that everyone else observes, then a change of venues is in the offing.

    Please take the time to review the policy and ensure future comments are in full compliance with it. Thanks for your understanding and compliance in this matter, as no further warnings shall be given.

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  4. I am not sure whether an argument about the semantics of whether CO2 is a pollutant or not actually serves any purpose, and is just more of "the science is not settled",  "CO2 is a harmless gas" and "CO2 is fertilizer " type arguments that skeptics are so fond of.

    Whether CO2 is a pollutant or not is an argument for lawyers. We know more of it will warm the planet and that it can kill you if there is too much of it. The Lake Nyos disaster in Cameroon in the 1980s certainly shows that CO2 can be deadly, when several thousand people and many cows were killed by the CO2 bubble that was released from the bottom of the lake.

    In relation to 19th century visionaries building sewers in our cities, the reduction of the number of people dying from colera would have had a far greater economic impact for the better on our modern industrial society, which far outweighed the cost of building them, than just leaving conditions as they were by not building them. The same is true for alleviating CO2 emissions.

    Discussing the levels of CO2 in our atmosphere is a similar to maintaining chlorine levels in a swimming pool. The pump puts it in and it evaporates out. If the pump does not keep up to the evaporation rate then there will be too little chlorine, algae will grow and you can't swim in the pool. If the pump puts in too much then you won't have algae but you still won't be able swim in the pool because you will get burnt and possibly die. The same analogy can be applied to fertilizers and land use. To little, you get weeds, a little more and you get a greater yield, too much and plants die. CO2 in the atmosphere is the same. Too little and we freeze. Too much and we will all be living in the tropics and people in poor countries will die.

    What is a safe level? Well the IPCC and climate scientists have already indicated what they think is safe. Pity the skeptics never give a figure that can be put under scientific scrutiny. Arguing about whether CO2 is a pollutant or not is a waste of time and just pandering to another skeptic/denier distraction.


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  5. "Arguing about whether CO2 is a pollutant or not is a waste of time and just pandering to another skeptic/denier distraction."

    I can't think of any way to argue with that.

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  6. Scaddenp@ 52.... why are you attacking me????  All I said was there are people who don't want to make sacrifices that sometimes come with renewable energy.  Then I gave examples.   Hydro power and fish.  I think hydroelectric is great but the fisheries departments don't like them.   Wind farms on Cape Cod ran into major obstacles because people didn't want their water views to change.  I am not sure what was so offensive about that.

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  7. Paul D @51... I would never hinder a wind farm from going up because of birds.... or a hydroelectric plant because of fish.  I was merely stating that I know of many people who hate using fossil fuels but complain about alternative energy options.  

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  8. While we're on the topic of windmills would somebody, pulleezze, tell me why windmills are White?  Just ask a Landscape Architect (you know: an expert) what color they should be.  "Anything but white", she would say.  An English study showed that, as regards bird deaths, the worst possible color you could paint a windmill is White (best is Purple).

    "Arguing about whether CO2 is a pollutant or not is a waste of time"  Its the kind of argument lawyers make, because lawyers are about conflict and not resolution.  Conflict pads the wallet of lawyers.  If you're of a scientific bent, you have got to be saying, to most of this discussion, 'what the...?'.

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  9. Donny #56

    You say "I would never hinder a wind farm from going up because of birds.... or a hydroelectric plant because of fish. I was merely stating that I know of many people who hate using fossil fuels but complain about alternative energy options."

    You are stating the obvious and wasting time. Do you have something constructive to add on how to convince people to look at the issue differently?

    And who cares about whether  CO2 as a pollutant? This is pedantic, time wasting, nonsense argument. The evidence is excessive quantities in the atmosphere are harmful. That is what matters.


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  10. Donny,

    You are long on opinions and short on references that support your position.  You have made many claims where others have provided documentation to show your claims were false.  You are adding to the noise, not the substance of the discussion.  That is why the moderator is warning you.  Provide links to support your position and you will be better received (even a link to WUWT is better than nothing).   The unsupported opinion of a random internet guy does not mean anything at this site.

    In your respose to Scaddenps at 56 you do not address the subject of your post that Scaddenps linked.  You  change the subject and complain about Scaddenps.  Since you did not address your off topic link, I presume you agree with Scaddenps that you were out of line with your post.  You started the fight and now you are complaining that you do not like Scaddenps's reply.  This type of changing the subject does not go over well with the moderators.  Try not to insult other posters.  Support your claims with links.

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  11. ubrew12 @58, I recalled and was able to locate a Slate article from a few years ago on why windmills are white.

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  12. It does sound like McConnell chooses to avoid openly stating his true views ie will not unequivocally say that he rejects mainstream science on climate. This is how Conservatives here in Australia work; what they say can and will strongly suggest that they reject the science but, through being uninformative, vague and contradictory they retain the the option to deny that they deny. For audiences that agree with them their sidestepping and occaisional concessions that climate is a real issue is made to look like a mocking and insincere submission to an imaginary eco- political correctness. ie forced on them by the unfortunate popularity of environmentalism. Those that take the issue seriously are no more fooled than those that reject it - but a big portion of community and voters, who aren't well informed and hold no strong views look to leaders to know what they are about - and are being let down.

    With this style of politicking, direct expressions of rejecting science tend to come from a smaller group of outspoken colleagues or from allied conmentators, which can be used both to say what's not expedient to say directly as well as make their own utterances seem more moderate. It's really about doubt and delay and keeping climate lower down in community concerns. When the problem is one that's ongoing, cumulative, with long delayed impacts with costs that will come out of irreplaceable capital, delay, like ignoring the abundant and clear expert advice from peak science agencies is dangerously irresponsible.

    It's deeply dismaying to think that the next Republican US President could very well come to office with a conviction that climate science is wrong and that climate as a policy consideration must be eliminated as far as possible from government business - like Australia's Prime Minister is doing - hinting at but never clearly articulating that belief or goal. Like Australia's Prime Minister did.

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  13. Ken of Oz

    On this site much is made, and correctly so, of the accuracy of comments. Your comments about Australia’s PM are not accurate. His government is putting in place a direct action plan with the stated aim of reducing Australia's emissions to 5% below 2000 levels by 2020. This legislation has just passed through the Senate.

    You may not like the policy and may believe it will not work or that it is too expensive or not as good as an ETS or whatever else. It is however inaccurate to state "that climate as a policy consideration must be eliminated as far as possible from government business - like Australia's Prime Minister is doing - hinting at but never clearly articulating that belief or goal. Like Australia's Prime Minister did”.

    The actions of this government clearly refute that statement.  Further relevant information, that further refutes your statement, about Australia’s planning for lowering CO2 emissions is at

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  14. Ken in Oz wrote: "...climate as a policy consideration must be eliminated as far as possible from government business"

    Ashton @63,

    Note the "as far as possible".  I think Ken in Oz has summarised the Australian situation rather accurately.

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  15. You appear not to know that since the repeal of the emissions trading scheme Australia has had no official policy on climate.  None at all.  If the government is, as you and Ken of Oz appear to believe, eliminating climate as a policy consideration "as far as possible"  why did it negotiate passage in the Senate of its policy of direct action?  Surely by your and Ken of Oz's logic, not having a policy at all would have very effectively totally  eliminated climate as a policy consideration.  That the government did not stay with that situation clearly shows it is not eliminating climate as a policy consideration as far as possible.  

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  16. Ashton,

    The relevant constraint on possibility, in this context, is not physical or legal but political. Not having a policy at all would only be possible in a sense too trivial to discuss; it would not be politically viable because there are still some Australians who respect the science, and for the moment they still have the vote, and TA needs at least some of the centre to vote for him to remain politically viable. That means he has to do just enough to make his inaction on climate change debateable at the margins. He has already pushed climate change denialism and inaction about as far as he can go without self-combusting in a fiery ball of farce. If TA announced a 4% reducton target, for instance, he would be at serious risk of looking like a parody of himself.

    I agree with Donny that this thread topic invites political comment, but I also agree that political debates are futile and not core SkS business. We clearly have zero chance of reaching common ground, so let's leave it at that.


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  17. Ashton, I think you are missing the point; PM Abbott finds it expedient to keep alive a thin pretense of treating climate like it matters - because the majority of Australians do think it matters. He and his team assiduously avoid  stating they have a goal of eliminating climate as a policy consideration and "Direct Action" fits the bill as an interim measure that looks the part but fails to embody any clear commitment to transition to a low emissions economy. By not overtly stating their anti-climate action goals the Abbott government avoids debating it and it can take climate policy backwards with less fuss, even if it is not - yet - able to achieve a complete elimination.

     This is a government that has sought to eliminate the Climate Change Authority, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Carbon pricing, energy subsidies to renewables based on emission reductions goals and the Renewable Energy Target. It routinely promotes the benefits of long term use of fossil fuels with deliberate disregard for climate consequences. It's chief business advisor is a declared climate science denier, as was the head of the review (unfavorable of course) of the Renewable Energy Target. It has greatly reduced funding for Australian Science. At no point have I heard any senior figure in the Abbott government express strong commitment to climate action since taking office, nor express clear acceptance that the science is valid or that there really is a serious climate problem - any that isn't qualified into irrelevance or contradicted in the same breath. On the contrary, their utterances are filled with hints and suggestions that they reject climate science and they routinely downplay or ridicule expectations of damaging climate consequences like greater bushfire danger or heatwaves or changes to precipitation patterns. Doing the least possible is held as a virtue. At no point is emissions reduction put forward as anything but the maintaining of a prior  commitment their party had made, one  that does not extend beyond 2020. Even the goal of 5 to 15% reductions is reduced to 5% in all discussion.

    It's apparent that behind the vague and condradictory utterances lies a conviction that global efforts to restrain emissions will collapse and underpinning that is embedded miscomprehension of climate science that allows them to sustain their belief that it's a non-problem, blown out of all proportion. But it remains useful to pretend otherwise for broader public consumption.

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  18. Leto I agree with you that we will never reach common ground and that political debate is not the core business of SkS despite climate change being mired in politics world wide.  It appears however that Ken of Oz, who introduced this particular  political aspect, is of a different opinion.  Perhaps you and Ken of Oz might read Paul Kelly's piece on the status which gives a more measured assessment of climate policy in Australia than do many other pieces.  (

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  19. Yes Donny I know what heat is and you know what the Law of Thermodynamics says about it ....

    Wait you likely do not ....

    Heat = energy and energy cannot be magically destroyed and made to disappear

    There are over 3 dozen satellites from half a dozen nations orbiting the Earth and they are ALL saying the same .... More heat energy is going in than is coming back out and since energy cannot be magically destroyed it can only means one thing, the Earth is gaining heat energy.

    Just for the record, anything that throws a system out of it's natural balance is a pollutant. Water is a polluant in a refrigerant system. Water and carbon are also pollutants in IC manufacturing clean room.

    The natural balance of CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere is apparantly 270 ppm give or take and was that way for roughly a million years. Any CO2 in excess of that natural balance of 270 ppm is a pollutant to the system and we are currently running 395-400 and steadily rising. That is an over 40% imbalance to the system. I don't know your line of work but in mine that quite a bit more than a significant imbalance.

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  20. I want to add that the reasons for picking lead and asbestos is they are two examples of using a product because simply because it is cheaper and more profitable long after it's dangers are verified.

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  21. I wonder what the likes of Senator Mitch McConnell would say if asked:

    "Who is responsible for caring about being fair with future humans who have no current day vote, marketing power, investment influence, or ability to obtain legal recourse against those who caused problems for them."

    Many evaluations of acceptability of the damaging consequences of the ultimately unsustainable burning up of the opportunity to benefit from nonrenewable buried hydrocarbons, including the UG Government's, make the absurd assessment that as long as their calculation of the benefit obtained by a current generation exceeds the costs incurred by a future generation 'all is well in their world'. They even discount future costs as if they were evaluating alternative 'business investment choices'.

    The lack of concern for the future that is being developed is the real problem.

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  22. The post's subject was the avoidance of clarity - with strong suggestions of rejection of climate science - by leading US politicians - and their apparent unwillingness to be upfront and forthcoming; it was not my intent to take the discussion into forbidden territory. 

    Since my last comment the Republicans have gained control of the US Senate and their most prominent climate science denier - Jim Inhofe - is being suggested as the likely next chairman of the senate environment and public  works committee. I don't know to what extent the Republican party position is that of open and clear rejection of climate science or to what extent it is  suggested and implied but less openly stated. It seems that appointments such as this - presuming it goes ahead - can only really occur if based on outright rejection of expert advice by Republican party leadership. I haven't seen indications of strong commitment to climate action from US Republicans -  that may be an artifact of not being deeply immersed in US politics but it does look to have parallels with conservative climate politics in Australia.

    Climate science denial and obstructionism by leaders holding positions of trust and responsibility give rejection of climate science a stamp of respectibility and credibility by their tolerance for it, even when they don't openly state the more extremist views such as Inhofe's themselves. I think it is the essential ingredient in ongoing failures to face the climate problem head on - more so in my opinion than any failures of scientists to communicate clearly - or of technological capabilities to address the problem.

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