Editor’s note: This commentary by retired ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore first appeared in the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus and Rutland Herald Sunday edition. All his columns can be found on his website, www.barriedunsmore.com.
I had the occasion to sit beside a well-educated, professionally successful person at a dinner recently. Everything was fine, until I happened to raise the issue of climate change — and then it was as though I had turned on Fox News. Scientists disagree! Climate change is a normal/natural phenomenon! Humans are not responsible! (And this was a new one on me – all this talk of climate change is simply a fad started by Al Gore to make himself rich!) I have to admit I did not just graciously change the subject. But I did hold back some of the choice, unprintable phrases I normally use in response to such oil industry brainwashing.
But that conversation demonstrated once again, what an uphill battle it is to get Americans to take climate change seriously. It may seem strange, that even as we witness historic patterns of extreme weather, in this country and around the world, the number of Americans dismissing climate change as a man-made phenomenon is actually rising — now to about 30 percent.
One of the reasons for the skepticism is the fact that the rise of surface temperatures around the globe has indeed slowed down since 1998. But that has to be seen in context. Current atmospheric temperatures are higher than any time in the past 4,000 years, and the planet itself has gotten warmer in the past decade. Yet climate change deniers have used this pause in surface temperature increases as evidence that climate scientists’ dire predictions are wrong.
They aren’t. And there is important bad news/ good news on this front. Both were included in a report this past week in the New York Times. It begins:
“El Nino is coming. Above average sea surface temperatures have developed off the west coast of South America and seem poised to grow into a full-fledged El Nino event in which usually warm water temperatures spread across the equatorial East Pacific. Models indicate a 75% chance of El Nino this fall, which could bring devastating droughts to Australia or heavy rains to the southern United States.”
Obviously that’s part of the bad news, as is the calculation, according to the Times report, that this round of El Nino, “will probably increase global temperatures, perhaps to the highest levels ever. It could even inaugurate a new era of more rapid warming.”
So what’s the good news? In the Times’ words, “A sustained period of faster warming won’t convert skeptics into climate change activists. But the accompanying wave of headlines might energize activists and refocus attention on climate change going into the 2016 presidential election. Those headlines could include landslides in Southern California and widespread floods across the South.” In other words, El Nino may prevent climate change deniers from continuing to use the pause in the rise of surface temperatures, to discredit climate scientists’ virtually unanimous conclusion that the real consequences of global warming are already upon us.
But I am totally confident that being a climate change denier will not be mandatory to win the Democratic presidential nomination for 2016. That cannot be said with conviction about the Republicans.
I know there are Democrats who are not yet convinced of global warming. But I am totally confident that being a climate change denier will not be mandatory to win the Democratic presidential nomination for 2016. That cannot be said with conviction about the Republicans. As evidence I submit the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman’s update of his “Where the GOP contenders stand on climate change.” (05/12/14)
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has lately offered vigorous climate denialism.“Our climate is always changing,” he said, noting that human activity has nothing to do with it and that efforts to do something about it, “will destroy our economy.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is emphatically convinced the whole thing is a hoax. He told CNN this year, “Contrary to all the theories they are expounding, there should have been warming over the past 15 years. It hasn’t happened.” (Actually it has, as explained above.)
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said in a recent interview that the earth goes through periods of time when the climate changes but he’s “not sure anybody knows exactly why.”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed, advocating more production of fossil fuels, saying that President Obama “must put energy prices and energy independence ahead of zealous left-wing environmental theory.”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a “no climate tax” pledge, promising not to support any legislation that would raise taxes to combat climate change.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has in the past, cast himself as a skeptic if not outright denier. “I think global warming may be real,” he said in 2011, but added, “It is not unanimous among scientists that it is disproportionately man-made.”
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rich Santorum says global warming is “a beautifully concocted scheme” by liberals.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee once supported the Republican-created market-based cap and trade system, which successfully reduced acid rain. He now strongly denies ever having done so.
Of all the potential presidential nominees, only New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has not disavowed his earlier unequivocal position. He said in 2011, “When you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who have studied this, stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role, it’s time to defer to the experts.”
Now just why is it, that nearly every Republican presidential wannabe has decided that climate change is not real? It is very hard not to conclude — it’s all about the money. Since the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to virtually unlimited campaign contributions often secretly donated, significantly more than a billion dollars will be needed to get elected president in 2016. And Republican candidates expect to receive much of their money from the oil, gas and coal industries – who by curious coincidence, just don’t happen to recognize climate change either.
Yet it seems to me, that given the scientific evidence, and with the future of the planet at stake, anyone denying the existence of man-made climate change, is demonstrably not fit to be president.