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“One Of The Starkest Ideological Divides Facing Voters”: GOP Candidates Range From Hopeless To Hapless On Climate Change

The vast majority of scientists who have devoted their professional lives to studying the Earth’s climate believe human-induced warming is an urgent problem requiring bold action. Republican candidates for president insist they know better.

With one possible exception — Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who barely registers in the polls — GOP contenders either doubt the scientific consensus on climate change or oppose attempts to do anything about it. This promises to be one of the starkest ideological divides facing voters next year.

No pressure; it’s only the fate of the planet hanging in the balance.

Before President Obama could even announce his administration’s tough new curbs on carbon emissions from power plants, Republican hopefuls launched pre-emptive attacks. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who flat-out denies that climate change is taking place, accused scientists of “cooking the books” and Democrats of choosing “California environmentalist billionaires and their campaign donations” over “the jobs of union members.” Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida charged that the new rules “will make the cost of electricity higher for millions of Americans.” Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called the regulations “unconstitutional” and claimed they would cost jobs.

These comments came at Sunday’s Freedom Partners forum, organized by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch to give GOP candidates a chance to strut their stuff. In that setting, I suppose, reality-based rhetoric would be too much to hope for.

For the record, let’s take a moment to deal with the above-quoted blather, which is typical of the lines of “argument” from the multitudinous GOP field.

To claim there is no atmospheric warming, Cruz cherry-picks one set of satellite measurement data — paying no attention to other data sets, which show continued warming — and chooses 1998 as a starting point. But that year was an obvious outlier; temperatures took a huge and anomalous leap, likely because of an unusually strong El Niño phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean.

Any graph of yearly global temperatures forms a saw-tooth pattern, but the overall trend is unambiguously upward. Cruz and other climate-change deniers ignore the fact that nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since the turn of the century — the one exception being 1998. The deniers also pretend to be unaware that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by a stunning 40 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when humans began burning fossil fuels in large quantities. Unless Cruz has rewritten the fundamental rules of physics, such an increase has to cause warming.

Rubio claims the new carbon rules will be too expensive for consumers, but he seems not to know that utility companies are already moving away from coal, which releases more carbon dioxide than other fuels such as natural gas. The Obama administration has estimated that electricity prices might rise 4.9 percent by 2020 — a small price to pay given the stakes.

As for Bush’s claim that the regulations are unconstitutional, the Supreme Court ruled last year that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions by power plants, factories and other polluting facilities. The 7-2 decision was written by Justice Antonin Scalia. Enough said.

The rest of the GOP field ranges from hopeless to hapless on the issue. Front-runner Donald Trump — I can’t believe I wrote those words, but that’s what he is — firmly belongs in the former camp. He has called global warming a “hoax” and once tweeted thatthe whole idea “was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.” Trump has also cited cold winter weather in the United States as “evidence.”

These Republicans seem to forget that the Earth is really, really big — so big that it can be cold in one place, such as Manhattan, and hot in other places. At the very same time.

Of the other candidates, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former New York Gov. George Pataki and businesswoman Carly Fiorina have all at times acknowledged the scientific consensus on climate change but hemmed and hawed about what, if any, action to take. Rick Santorum joins Trump and Cruz in full denial. The rest — Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal, Ben Carson and Jim Gilmore — either aren’t sure warming is taking place or don’t know if humans are causing it.

Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both promise even tougher action against climate change than Obama has taken. This is a very big reason why elections matter.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 3, 2015

August 7, 2015 Posted by | Climate Change, Global Warming, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The GOP Won’t Be Happy”: Preparing For The Great Republican Freak-Out Over Obama’s Environmental Regulations

On June 2, President Obama is expected to announce his new EPA rules on extant coal-fired power plants. As Jonathan Chait points out in an excellent background piece on the legal issues, this will be the centerpiece of his second-term agenda. How strong these rules are, and whether or not his administration manages to guide them successfully through the bureaucratic gauntlet, may well outstrip ObamaCare in historical importance.

In another good piece, Chait outlines why the political blowback from these rules is likely to be very bad:

Republicans are likely to have the better of the debate politically. Support for regulating carbon emissions may be broad, but it’s tissue-thin — Americans rank climate change near or at the bottom of their priorities. A 2011 survey found the amount an average American would pay in higher electricity costs for the sake of clean energy to be a pitiably low $162 a year. The absence of an extended, ObamaCare-style legislative slog will help Obama’s case, but years of lengthy court battles won’t. Opponents may manage to sustain state-level challenges and overwhelming red-state resistance. [New York]

It’s an all too convincing argument. However, I think the political forecast is not quite so dire as he makes out, for two reasons: El Niño, and the fact that the weakened coal industry is already teetering. Knowing Republicans, there is probably nothing that will forestall an enraged GOP backlash, but these two facts might take some of the wind out of their turbines.

First: El Niño. It’s a deeply complex and still not fully understood phenomenon (Brad Plumer has a nice explanation here), but the bumper sticker idea is that the surface of the tropical Pacific gets much warmer than usual. Scientists are now giving it about a 75 percent chance that El Niño will develop over the next few months. This matters for the politics, because it means it will get hot.

El Niño is strongly correlated with high surface temperatures — both 2010 and 1998, the first- and second-hottest years ever measured, respectively, were El Niño years. Last month tied for the hottest April of all time, and this summer could be even hotter. (And down the road, 2015 will almost certainly break the record for hottest year ever recorded, possibly by a lot.)

As Nate Cohn explains, extreme heat tends to shift belief in climate change, especially when combined with El Niño’s typical bouts of extreme weather. This is a bit silly, scientifically speaking (a cold winter doesn’t disprove global warming), but it does seem to have a robust political effect.

Second is the weak position of the coal industry. Though it has made a small comeback in the last year or so, its long-term decline is almost certainly unstoppable. For most of the Obama era, it has been hammered by cheap natural gas and regulations on heavy metals, resulting in dozens of plant closures.

Solar is now so cheap that it is becoming a legitimate threat. Almost one-third of all new electricity generation was solar last year. The carbon barons are fighting a desperate rearguard action to legislate solar out of the market, but if prices continue to fall (as they are predicted to do) these kinds of actions will be ever more unjustifiable. Increasingly, coal is simply an antiquated and crummy way to generate electricity.

Of course, these trends don’t guarantee that the EPA regulations will come out unscathed. But they will shift the political terrain. Just like it’s hard to argue in favor of deregulation during a financial crisis, it will be harder to argue against climate regulations during record-smashing heat waves. And while Republicans would dearly love to burn every single gram of coal on the planet, they’ll have a harder time time doing it if Big Coal is simply losing in the market.


By: Ryan Cooper, National Correspondent, The Week, May 22, 2014

May 23, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Coal Industry, Environmental Protection Agency | , , , , , | 1 Comment


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