Imagine during the Cold War that one political party, in the face of overwhelming evidence that the Soviet Union was engaged in espionage against the United States, had a nuclear arsenal pointed at the United States, kept Eastern Europe under its thumb and imprisoned dissenters, refused to consider the Soviet Union a danger — of any sort — to the United States or other Western democracies. And they would offer no credible evidence to the contrary, but rather assert that it was all a hoax. Besides, they’d insist (with no evidence) that it was too expensive to address the challenge posed by the Soviet Union, a danger which they claimed didn’t exist (So how expensive could it be? Don’t ask!). Actually, you don’t have to imagine this scenario. Many on the left have made arguments along these lines, and many on the right have responded by saying they were fuzzy-headed, in denial or captive of interest groups.
That is essentially what is going on, only with the parties flipped, in the climate-change debate. Climate-change denial has become as necessary to one’s right-wing identity as aversion to immigration, opposition to most abortions and a disbelief that sexual harassment and assault are widespread. Just as rejecting geopolitical reality became a requirement of inclusion in far-left circles, climate-change denial is a must for those who want to remain in the Trump fold.
On what basis do they deny climate change? President Trump says he knows a lot about science, so believe him instead of all the scientists who work for the federal government. Others seek refuge in the fantasy that there is reasonable doubt as to the existence of climate change or the severity of the problem, citing fringe characters without expertise on the subject. Those who know better or suspect climate-change denial is irrational (but are too cowardly to confront know-nothings who dominate the party) are willing to string along with the mob, even at the expense of endangering the country and the planet. Republican senators from Florida and Texas, where their constituents' lives and property are threatened by the rising sea levels that result from rising temperatures, won’t admit the origin of the problem. They simply want bailout money each time another disaster strikes.
In both the Cold War and the debate over climate change, ideology has won out over empirical reality, and those opposed to spending any time or money on either problem have preferred to wish it away rather than engage in good-faith arguments that entail policy trade-offs. Deniers have disqualified themselves from holding power since willful blindness puts Americans at risk, and their propensity to disregard reality makes one question both their judgment and honesty.
That’s where we are on the climate-change debate. And you do wonder how long Americans are going to put up with the dangerous campaign of denial on the right.
The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that “overall, 66 percent of Americans now say they’ve seen enough evidence to justify action, up from 51 percent two decades ago.” The results tell us that “85 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of independents, 71 percent of women, 61 percent of men and strong majorities of all racial groups. At least 55 percent agree on the need for action in all regions of the country, and at all age, education and income levels.”
However, the one group that simply refuses to even recognize the problem is — you guessed it! — Republicans. (“A 56 percent majority of the GOP says either that concern about climate change is unwarranted or that more research is necessary before taking action.”) As the evidence on climate change has gone from persuasive to unassailable, Republicans have made denial a calling card for inclusion in the ranks of Trump’s GOP.
At some point, maybe in 2020, Democratic candidates are going to start running on the very sensible conclusion that climate-change deniers are a menace to Americans' economic well-being, comfort and security. You’d sort of like to see climate-change realists do to deniers what incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) did to President Trump in the Oval Office: Call them out for lying, explain the well-accepted facts and put deniers in the position of having to defend an utterly irrational position. Done over and over again, with poor electoral results for the deniers, we might actually make headway. It is long past the time to challenge, confront, debunk and frankly, embarrass, adults who’d rather adopt some tribal identification than solve a pressing and all-too-real danger to the country.