How Republicans turned against science

The Koch brothers paid them too.

Kidding.  Sort of.  Sadly, there’s a lot of truth in that simple explanation.  A little while back, NYT ran a great article on how the Republican Party turned against climate science and I’ve finally gotten around to it here (too important to be lost among the quick hits).

Anyway, it is truly amazing– and depressing– the degree to which selfish and short-sighted corporate dollars have basically bought off the entire GOP:

Since Mr. McCain ran for president on climate credentials that were stronger than his opponent Barack Obama’s, the scientific evidence linking greenhouse gases from fossil fuels to the dangerous warming of the planet has grown stronger. Scientists have for the first time drawn concrete links between the planet’s warming atmosphere and changes that affect Americans’ daily lives and pocketbooks, from tidal flooding in Miami to prolonged water shortages in the Southwest to decreasing snow cover at ski resorts.

That scientific consensus was enough to pull virtually all of the major nations along. Conservative-leaning governments in Britain, France, Germany and Japan all signed on to successive climate change agreements.

Yet when Mr. Trump pulled the United States from the Paris accord, the Senate majority leader, the speaker of the House and every member of the elected Republican leadership were united in their praise.

Those divisions did not happen by themselves. Republican lawmakers were moved along by a campaign carefully crafted by fossil fuel industry players, most notably Charles D. and David H. Koch, the Kansas-based billionaires who run a chain of refineries (which can process 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day) as well as a subsidiary that owns or operates 4,000 miles of pipelines that move crude oil… [emphases mine]

Unshackled by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and other related rulings, which ended corporate campaign finance restrictions, Koch Industries and Americans for Prosperity started an all-fronts campaign with television advertising, social media and cross-country events aimed at electing lawmakers who would ensure that the fossil fuel industry would not have to worry about new pollution regulations.

Their first target: unseating Democratic lawmakers such as Representatives Rick Boucher and Tom Perriello of Virginia, who had voted for the House cap-and-trade bill, and replacing them with Republicans who were seen as more in step with struggling Appalachia, and who pledged never to push climate change measures.

But Americans for Prosperity also wanted to send a message to Republicans.

Until 2010, some Republicans ran ads in House and Senate races showing their support for green energy.

“After that, it disappeared from Republican ads,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity. “Part of that was the polling, and part of it was the visceral example of what happened to their colleagues who had done that.”

What happened was clear. Republicans who asserted support for climate change legislation or the seriousness of the climate threat saw their money dry up or, worse, a primary challenger arise.

“It told Republicans that we were serious,” Mr. Phillips said, “that we would spend some serious money against them.”

Lots of good stuff here.  On the downside, the article is almost a casebook study of misguided “both sides!” journalism.

The Republican Party’s fast journey from debating how to combat human-caused climate change to arguing that it does not exist is a story of big political money, 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 and conciliation…

After winning re-election in 2012, Mr. Obama understood his second-term agenda would have to rely on executive authority, not legislation that would go nowhere in the Republican-majority Congress. And climate change was the great unfinished business of his first term.

To finish it, he would deploy a rarely used provision in the Clean Air Act of 1970, which gave the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to issue regulations on carbon dioxide.

The result was the Clean Power Plan, which would significantly cut planet-warming emissions by forcing the closing of hundreds of heavy-polluting coal-fired power plants.

The end run around Congress had consequences of its own. To Republican (and some Democratic) critics, the Clean Power Plan exemplified everything they opposed about Mr. Obama: He seemed to them imperious, heavy-handed, pleasing to the elites on the East and West Coasts and in the capitals of Europe, but callous to the blue-collar workers of coal and oil country.

Whether the Clean Power Plan was executive overreach or not– and there’s a reasonable case to be made that it was– to put this anywhere on par with right-wing money as a causal factor in the dramatic rightward shift of Republicans on the issue is logically ludicrous and false equivalence journalism at its worst.

Couldn’t let that go, but, short-version: the story of right-wing fossil fuel billionaires turned the GOP into the ant-science party.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

3 Responses to How Republicans turned against science

  1. rgbact says:

    Um, or maybe it was due to the 18 year Pause in global warming? As usual, the Left wants desperately to not understand the motives of the people that oppose them. Prevents having to debate things. Creating bogeymen is so much simpler.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Oh, yeah, that’s it alright. As you know, I do not go around making all-purpose villains of the Koch’s (oh, I think they are villanous alright, just that their influence is overstated). As for your mental gymnastics on the climate issue– as you try and keep telling yourself you are not a science-denier– it’s just amusing.

      • rgbact says:

        The atmosphere is the part thats supposed to warm from CO2 most….not oceans. But thanks for the link anyway. Btw, I think liberals would be supporting climate alarmism…..even if Tom Steyer wasn’t their top campaign contributor. I’m not big on blaming billionaire bogeymen for the way people think.

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