Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.
Samuel Johnson, 1775
I have a colleague who is a substance abuser. Wait, let me rephrase that. A colleague of mine is perpetually frustrated by the unwillingness of climate-science deniers to see the truth about climate change in the data she and the vast majority of the world’s scientists present to them. As the data grows stronger, her frustration grows greater.
Our conversations over the years have followed pretty much the same pattern. She tells me her frustration; then I try to explain that for many deniers it’s not really about the numbers, it’s more about their politics.
Then she says--if they would only look at the substantive peer-reviewed data, they would see…. Then I say, exactly—maybe they only see what they want to see and, mumble something under my breath about her numbers being boring.
Then she says I heard that…and I say…heard what…and anyway what’s changed and why do we have to have this same stupid conversation over and over again? I own that I’m not the adult in the room here.
The other day in the midst of our usual banter my friend stopped me at what’s changed? Then she said, what’s changed is the deniers are attacking my politics; they use to make more of a pretense of attacking the numbers. Why do you think that is?
I didn’t have an answer at the time, but I think now it might have something to do with the findings of a pair of opinion surveys that have been reported on over the last week or so.
A poll conducted in November 2018 by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago found that nearly half of all Americans believe climate science is more convincing than it was five years ago based on extreme weather events, e.g., rising incidence and intensity of storms, droughts, and record hot summers. By the numbers, 48 percent of Americans find climate science more convincing, 36 percent say their climate views haven't changed, while 16 percent claim climate science is less convincing over the last five years.
A second university poll conducted by climate communications programs at Yale and George Mason found the same pattern occurring and for much the same reasons. A key takeaway was a 15 percent rise in the number of respondents who said they were personally experiencing the impacts of Earth’s warming.
I think these poll results help to explain my friend’s encountering more ad hominem attacks. Deniers—particularly those in political circles—are intuitively sensing just what the surveys seem to be suggesting—people’s increasing confidence in mainstream climate science based on their own experiences.
The deniers she’s encountering are taking a page from Trump’s own playbook. If you don’t like the message—then by all means--shoot the messenger!
Make no mistake the partisan divide still exists. The University of Chicago survey found that five percent of the Democrats who believe the climate is changing are willing to consider the change is from natural causes compared to 30 percent of Republicans willing to do the same.
I would venture, based on anecdotal evidence from the midterm elections, that coastal Republicans, e.g., those in Florida, Texas, the Carolinas, and Louisiana, are more worried than others in the party. Senator Scott (R-FL) was nearly an also-ran because of the red tide, and blue-green algae blooms polluting Florida’s beaches and keeping tourists away before the midterm elections. As governor, Scott dismissed climate-science as a hoax and a porkulus boondoggle by researchers to keep from having to get real jobs.
Over the past 18 months, a number of Trumplicans have expressed concerns over a red tide, just not the one that spread across Florida’s beaches. The red tide they’re interested in are environmentalists being funded by Moscow.
You think I’m kidding, don’t you?
Well, I may be kidding, but Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA) is not. The former chair of the House Intelligence Committee claimed on a podcast last September that Russia is funding the environmental movement here and abroad—to expand their fossil fuel sales and perhaps to bring down western capitalism. He even joked with Bruce Thornton of the Hoover Institute that climate hawks were like watermelons—green on the outside but red on the inside.
Nunes, along with Representatives Lamar Smith (R-TX), and Randy Weber (R-TX) wrote to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin in 2017 asking him to investigate whether Russia is in cahoots—a good cowboy word—with American environmental activists for the express purpose of preventing the US from developing its natural gas resources. Part of the unanswered letter reads:
Publicly available reports connect the dots in this complex scheme operated under the guise of philanthropic endeavors. The Russian government and complicit parties have executed a political agenda with little or no paper trail.
According to the reports, entities connected to the Russian government are using a shell company registered in Bermuda…to funnel tens of millions of dollars to a U.S.-based 501(c)(3) private foundation, the Sea Change Foundation. This money appears to move in the form of anonymous donations. Sea Change then passes the money originating in Russia to various U.S. 501(c)(3) organizations such as the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters Education Fund and others. These funds are dispersed as grants that will be used to execute a political agenda driven by Russian entities.
I’m still curious to know why Nunes didn’t simply ask Trump to text his buddy Vlad to ask if the accusations of Russian collusion with US environmental groups were true.
Nunes and his Texas side-kicks are not the only ones who have accused environmental advocates of shilling for foreign governments. Rob Bishop (R-UT), chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources in the 115th Congress, “suggested” that the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the World Resources Institute and Earthjustice should register as agents of foreign governments. Bishop was reported saying:
Based on the committee's investigation to date, we are concerned that environmental groups that bring such lawsuits may be knowingly or vulnerable to unwittingly serving as proxies for our foreign adversaries.
Bishop and another Republican member of the Committee on Natural Resources, Bruce Westerman (R-AK), sent letters to the organizations asking for any documents related to potential foreign influence or control over the groups. The Congressmen were basing their suspicions on the groups’ involvements in lawsuits filed in Asia and the Pacific Ocean having to do with the protection of endangered marine mammals.
A letter was also sent by the Committee to Defense Secretary Mattis telling him of the lawsuits being filed by the groups. The lawmakers allowed as how “some lawsuits represent sincere and justified concerns about the effect of federal actions on the environment, others may be maliciously filed to stop, restrict, delay, or impose additional costs on U.S. military activities.”
The Committee letter cited as one example NRDC’s suit against the Navy’s use of active sonar and underwater explosives for the harms they would cause marine life in the area. Thinking that a four-star wouldn’t understand the potential implications for US defense should NRDC’s suit succeed, the lawmakers explained:
Active sonar is the most effective means of detecting the ultra-quiet diesel-electric submarines deployed by foreign navies, such as China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy.
Right-wing attacks on the Sea Change Foundation and grantees like the Sierra Club, the Energy Foundation, and others have been going on for a while now—starting in earnest during the Obama administration. In 2014 minority members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works issued a report in which they claimed to have exposed an elite group of left-wing billionaires who directs and controls the far-left environmental movement, which in turn controls major policy decisions and lobbies on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Sea Change Foundation was accused in the report of funneling tens of millions of dollars to other large but discreet foundations and prominent environmental activists who strive to control both policy and politics. Right-wing media outlets like the DC Caller, The Daily Signal, Breitbart and FOX regularly write or carry stories rehashing the claims against the foundations and venting vitriol on individuals in terms a white nationalist like Congressman King (R-IA) might copy.
The freshman class of the new Democratic House majority is already a target of conservative conspiracists. Days ago, the Heartland Institute’s Justin Haskins wrote an opinion piece for Fox News that called out Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) for having ripped off her radical and destructive policy proposal from our democracy’s socialist enemies to the north.
Haskins informed readers that AOC’s Green New Deal (GND) proposal was just a rehash of the Leap Manifesto. To give Haskins his due—there are similarities between the two plans. Although why it makes a difference, I’m not sure. I can only assume that it was the word “Manifesto” that set him off.
It is not the first time Haskins popped off about the suspicious and un-American roots of Democrats and environmentalists. In an earlier piece of his mind, he expressed outrage at the Democrat’s sharp leftward tilt. He might have left it there...but of course, he didn’t. He twaddled on about Karl Marx and how Americans fought and died in the Korean and Vietnam Wars – begun under Democratic presidents – to stop the spread of communism.
I’ve since told my friend to ignore the personal attacks of deniers and to wear their barbs proudly as evidence that her numbers—as boring as they may be at times—are making a positive difference in the national climate debate.
And to the Nunes’s, Bishops and Haskins of the world I say, what could possibly be more patriotic than creating a just society and preserving the habitability of the nation’s environment for current and future generations?
Lead image credit: jean-wimmerlin-533657-unsplash
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.