If you can't stand the heat: Why Washington is stuck on climate change (Part 1)

Keith Gaby

Image by Vinoth Chandar/Flickr

There is no point in being coy about this: The issue of climate change is polarized along partisan and ideological lines.

Democrats and progressives think it is a dangerous threat to the world. Most Republicans and conservatives think the threat is exaggerated, or doesn’t exist at all. The divide among politicians is even more striking – less than a third of Republicans in Congress responding to a 2011 National Journal survey said climate change is causing the Earth to warm.

Against this political backdrop, many critics say that groups like EDF, which  seek to start a dialogue with conservatives on the issue, are  naive.  No conciliatory language, no middle-ground proposals, they say, will draw more than a few Republican votes in Congress. Conservative members of Congress will simply vote against us once Rush Limbaugh starts railing against the global warming “hoax”.

It’s a reasonable argument, but I think it misses an essential point: It may be hard to pass climate change legislation by working with conservatives, but it will be nearly impossible to do so without them. In fact, no major environmental law has ever been passed without large bi-partisan majorities.  The Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments all passed with lots of votes from both major parties. 

No important legislation can become law without sixty votes in the Senate.  And I think you will search in vain for a respected political analyst who thinks there will be sixty progressive, pro-environment senators any time soon.  On an issue that doesn’t allow for the long game – as the atmosphere loads with greenhouse gases and the ice caps melt – we can’t wait decades for that super-majority to appear.

That leaves us two choices: act without Congress, or open a conversation with conservatives and move towards an approach that can get widespread support.  President Obama has already used his executive powers to limit greenhouses gases, including a clean cars rule and proposed standards for new power plants. We hope he will soon add pollution limits for existing power plants and policies to limit methane leakage from natural gas production. 

All of that, along with actions by states like California’s AB 32, will be an important down payment on what we need to do. But in the long run it won’t be nearly enough to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.  Nothing short of a comprehensive solution to shift America to cleaner energy, and lead the world that way, will suffice. And that means Congressional action.


Conservatives say climate change is a hoax. From what I have been able to find this is for three reasons:

1.) Taking steps to clean up and correct this situation and/or convert to some other non-polluting energy source will be expensive and hurt the porfits of the oil companies.

2.) The liberals believe it to be true.

3.) Science says evolution is true. Evoution challenges the conservative's religious beliefs so not only must evolution be wrong, but all science must also be wrong.

The latest figure that I have heard is that 97% of all climate scientists agree that not only is climate change happening, but also that is a direct result of human activities that put greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

But, once again, a clean-up will be expensive. So I suppose we will do nothing and risk almost certain extinction. That's okay, though, because we can make $20.00 bucks before it happens.

Russell Marra
April 4, 2013 at 9:19 pm

1.) Wha's a porfit ?

April 7, 2013 at 9:30 pm

In reply to by Russell Marra

I used to be a skeptic. Now I'm convinced there is no significant carbon-based global warming threat. The data before 1970 was not good enough to make much of any kind of assessment on global temperatures. Tree ring data was used when it was convenient and seemed to support the warming argument, then dumped when it didn't. Arctic ice disappearance was used to show the horrors of a melting globe while Antarctic ice growth was ignored. Every heat wave, hurricane, and weather event of any type in the U.S. was seized upon as some kind of proof of warming, while killing cold waves in the rest of the world ignored (think Europe the last five winters). Articles based on anecdotal evidence about Himalayan ice melt was uplifted to scientific level. The fact that even so-called climatologists could not agree on whether or not cloud cover would increase with global warming and whether or not it would then warm or cool the earth was never mentioned. Also never mentioned was the fact that tree growth in the Amazon has now exceeded what was lost in the slash-and-burn years.

The cherry-picking isn't the only thing that has convinced me. The celebrity worship and hypocrisy of the leaders in this movement have helped. The global warming movement was led by an American politician who took exactly two science classes in college, getting a C in one and a D in the other. The same man won a Nobel Prize and an Oscar which he received in front of an adoring celebrity throng. This same man owns two mansions, one on each coast, the one on the East Coast consuming 20 times the energy as a typical U.S. house (which Time Magazine reported as only 10 times ... and never issued a correction).

Then there was the revelation of suppression of publishing of non-conforming scientific articles. The leading suppressor and inventor of the now-discredited hockey stick was exonerated by the same university president who exonerated Joe Paterno.

Then there's that so-called "the science is settled" argument with its 97% of scientists agreeing with warming. Come to find out its a very select group of less than 100 scientists, most of them not climatologists, all with vested interest in the fervor.

Meanwhile, all the predictions of warming alarmists -- more hurricanes, more tornados, hugely elevated sea levels -- have failed to materialize. In most cases, just the opposite is true. And all the while the globe's temperature remains stubbornly even.

I am not a scientist, I'm not a journalist, I'm just a guy who has taken an interest in this issue and read a considerable amount on it. The house of cards that was erected is falling. Global warming is a hoax.

Mark J
April 4, 2013 at 10:36 pm

If there is more evidence that the winds of political war and minds are changing, even in the right wing controlled congress, some one needs to inform Rich Lowry of the erroneously named KING SYNDICATE. Oh, they ARE a syndicate, but certainly are lacking for KINGS, as most all toe the mark for the Tea Party on everything. Rich Lowry has spun lies and half truths for years, and I hope this gets to him as there is no return address on his ALICE IN WONDERLAND columnm maybe more directly he looks more like BARBIE,S KEN even more than MITT did. Poor fools they are writing the death knell for the REPUBLICANS on their way to their swan song ''GONE WITH THE WHIGS!!

Arcelio Martinez
April 4, 2013 at 11:57 pm

The earth will either cool some during a certain period of its existence, or it will warm some during that period of its existence and it should not be expected that the temperature of the earth would remain the same for very long. This process is evident in the geologic record, and we presently still live in an ice age; as geologic time passes glaciation advances and recedes.

It seems that the earth is presently warming some, although in the past at various times, even during the period of human existence, the earth has been just as warm and warmer. That this warming is because of human induced release of Carbon Dioxide is in my view an interesting theory, but an unproven theory; Carbon Dioxide remains a minor part of the earth's atmosphere.

I would view global cooling should it be seen as more threatening than global warming. It has not been that long ago that concern was wide spread over global cooling, but presently we are supposed to be terrified over global warming. Actually, the long term threat may be global cooling and advance of glaciation even though presently increased glaciation is not being observed.

However, just for the sake of argument, suppose human induced Carbon Dioxide release is driving a global climate change that will have catastrophic consequence because of induced warming. If that is the case, any measures to be taken must be judged for their effect. Schemes such as Carbon Credits and Carbon Cap and Trade are too complicated and can be taken as just a scheme to tax and provide revenue for those entities controlling the process, and are unnecessary. If releasing Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere is going to cause catastrophe, then practices which will do so would best be forced to an end, not allowed to continue just because money was contributed to a process or government.

One other concern; should it be true that release of Carbon Dioxide will cause catastrophe, for only some nations to reduce Carbon Dioxide release will be futile; all nations, particularly China, must also do so. Also India. All nations, or else the catastrophe only unfolds at best a little more slowly. Based on their increasing levels of Carbon Dioxide release, many nations appear to not be convinced of the necessity to control Carbon Dioxide release.

By all logic, if it is the case that human induced release of Carbon Dioxide is causing global warming and climate change which will cause a catastrophe, levels of Carbon Dioxide release would have to be reduced world wide to near the levels of the 19th Century to stop the process it would seem. China as an example seems to presently have little willingness to do so.

Those who strongly believe in the necessity of reducing Carbon Dioxide release must start making their case in Mandarin, Hindi and many other languages. For only the United States and the western nations to reduce Carbon Dioxide release would not be ultimately effective. Indeed, it would probably be pointless.

Charles Conkwright
April 6, 2013 at 5:07 pm

"The earth will either cool some during a certain period of its existence, or it will warm some during that period of its existence and it should not be expected that the temperature of the earth would remain the same for very long."
Exactly right - Below is a scientific chart based on ice cores covering the last 400,000 years that demonstrates that temperatures have been constantly changing, both up and down, on a regular cycle that averages about once every 100,000 years. At current temperature levels, it appears that we are about ready to start a new 'ice age', hardly the scenario posited by most 'doom and gloom' prognosticators;


PS - If we indeed are about to enter a new ice age, it would be catastrophic, likely killing billions from starvation and disease, but for the exact OPPOSITE reason most people believe.

Roy Wilson
April 7, 2013 at 10:15 pm

In reply to by Charles Conkwright

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