Come take a nostalgic spin with me into the past—before, that is, James Comey’s dramatic testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee. I’m thinking of the day Donald Trump announced the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. Boy, was that big news. The New York Times ran three articles about it above the fold. The story led the news broadcasts, cable programs, and Sunday shows, and it dominated social-media feeds for days.
Leave aside certain subtleties, like the fact that the withdrawal won’t take effect until November 4, 2020, which happens to be the day after our next presidential election. What was really new about this news? Given the attention lavished on Trump’s decision, an observer might imagine that addressing climate change had long been deemed a matter of crucial political importance. Think back to last year’s campaign: Remember all the coverage that the two candidates’ views on climate change and the Paris accord received?
Neither do I. Not a single question about climate change was asked of any presidential candidate by a moderator during the 2016 debates (or the 2012 debates, for that matter). Clinton did bring the subject up unbidden during one of them, when she noted, accurately, that Trump had repeatedly made and tweeted ridiculous accusations, such as that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” But neither the moderators at the debates nor the vast majority of pundits who graded the candidates’ performances thought this lunatic assertion worthy of further exploration.
When it comes to global warming, as on so many other issues, Trump is perfectly in sync with the Republican Party and out of sync with pretty much the entire educated world. No other major political party on the planet rejects the international scientific consensus that global warming is both caused by humans and poses a profound threat to civilization, including our own. Once upon a time, politicians like John McCain and Lindsey Graham dabbled in common sense on the issue, but they soon found that their national ambitions demanded a complete reversal. Now it’s almost impossible to find a Republican politician willing to put his or her career at risk by speaking the truth about climate change. Even supposedly sensible conservative pundits pledge fealty to this know-nothing, anti-science view. Anti-Trump conservative Erick Erickson is frequently lauded for his criticisms of the president. This American hero recently tweeted, “I just have a hard time believing climate change extremists when so many of them also believe boys can become girls.” And as I’ve noted, Bret Stephens is the latest recipient of the honor of a New York Times op-ed column, despite having dismissed human-caused global warming as a “mass hysteria phenomenon.”
Sure, Trump is the worst in every way. But the United States would still have withdrawn from the Paris accord if any Republican had won the presidency. Not a single candidate supported it; the GOP’s platform dismissed it. And Trump’s withdrawal received not a single word of criticism from any influential member of the party. One can point to any number of causes for this devotion to willful ignorance, but the most obvious is that it is highly remunerative. Shortly after Trump’s decision, the Times published an investigation into how David and Charles Koch have used their multibillion-dollar fortune to ensure that smearing mainstream climate science as “fake” and a “conspiracy” became, in the words of Republican strategist Whit Ayres, “yet another of the long list of litmus test issues that determine whether or not you’re a good Republican.”
For the Koch brothers, the trade-off is simple. Their fortune is in fossil fuels, and preserving the atmosphere interferes with their business plan. They’ll leave it to their heirs to worry about the consequences of a poisoned planet. The Times piece, written by Coral Davenport and Eric Lipton, is a valuable contribution toward helping us understand how so many ostensibly sensible people can be made to utter total nonsense in public with only minimal embarrassment. But the article suffered from a fundamental and typical Times-ian flaw: It sought to blame the problem not only on Republicans, their funders, and their apologists, but also on what it termed “Democratic hubris.” The term appeared in the article’s subhead and its opening paragraph, in which we learned that the GOP’s murder-suicide policy on climate change can be chalked up in part to “Democratic hubris in the Obama years and a partisan chasm that grew over nine years like a crack in the Antarctic shelf, favoring extreme positions and uncompromising rhetoric over cooperation
The only “extreme position” the article mentioned is that of the Republicans. As for Democratic “hubris,” in the course of more than 4,500 words, we don’t actually get any. Yes, Henry A. Waxman, a retired House Democrat, is quoted as saying that he had expected a cap-and-trade bill to pass in 2009 because (back then) McCain, the party’s presidential candidate, supported it together with a few Republicans and most Democrats. “I thought we could get it done,” Waxman told the reporters. That’s it.
In short, the Koch brothers and their allies paid the Republicans to repudiate their extremely tentative steps for dealing with a threat to the future habitability of the planet (as well as a massive national-security risk), while one Democratic House member—having underestimated the other side’s craven willingness to bow down before its megabucks donors and ideological obsessives—mistakenly opined that a successful agreement was possible.
So there you have it, yet again: Both sides do it. Just don’t examine the evidence too carefully.