What if an international panel of climate change scientists issued a nearly 900-page five-alarm report, warning of looming droughts, floods, famine and tens of millions displaced by rising waves in the coming decades—and no one listened?
That’s pretty much the state of the Republican Party as it heads into the 2018 midterm elections. Few have even mentioned the issue of climate change at all, and those that have are almost entirely skeptical that climate change exists at all.
Of the 32 Republican nominees for the U.S. Senate this cycle, barely a handful are on record as believing in climate change, much less in humanity’s role in warming the planet. Backed by a president who once described climate change as a Chinese hoax, the majority of Republican senate candidates have stated publicly that either the debate over climate change is too unsettled to justify government action, or that the only climate they care about is one favorable to domestic fossil fuel production.
Some candidates have stated that climate change is merely the result of crooked climatologists perpetrating a hoax on gullible laymen; others have blamed the sun. Only two, Bob Hugin of New Jersey and Robert Flanders of Rhode Island, even mention climate change on their websites. Recent polling for both candidates indicates that the likelihood of either serving in the Senate is unlikely, at best.
Of Republicans who are considered likely to actually end up serving in the Senate in 2019, only one, former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, is on record stating that human impact on the planet’s climate poses a risk that must be addressed.
Global warming, Romney said at the Utah Capitol in August, “means wildfires are going to become a regular part of life and more and more dangerous.” Romney, who is the Republican nominee to replace outgoing Sen. Orrin Hatch, urged Republicans to “recognize that business as usual is not going to solve the problem—we have to step up in a far more aggressive way.”
But among his likely future Senate Republican colleagues, Romney stands alone.
Some candidates—among them sitting senators seeking re-election—have actively worked to undo policies enacted by President Barack Obama, chief among them the Paris Agreement, a global accord signed by 195 countries with the stated goal of limiting global temperature rise to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, or 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Rep. Jim Renacci of Ohio wrote an opinion piece saying “good riddance” to the accords when Trump announced that he was pulling the United States out of the agreement, a move that even China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, decried. Minnesota state senator Karin Housley cheered the withdrawal, alleging that it would have cost taxpayers “trillions of dollars” and “hindered the oil, gas, coal and manufacturing industries.”
Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, one of 22 Republican Senators who signed a letter urging Trump to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, even went one step further than any other member of his party, becoming the sole member of the U.S. Senate to vote against a one-sentence amendment declaring that “it is the sense of the Senate that climate change is real and not a hoax.”
Explaining his vote, Wicker’s office released a statement that the senator “agree[s] with the more than 31,000 American scientists who do not believe the science on this matter is settled,” a reference to a petition circulated among climate change skeptics with an expansive definition of the word “scientist.”
Others who hope to help shape American climate policy have demonstrated an aggressive level of illiteracy on science in general. Jim Newberger, who hopes to unseat Sen. Amy Klobuchar in Minnesota, stated in a debate with the senator that “the number-one factor in climate change is the sun. We cannot change how the sun operates.”
Sen. Marsha Blackburn of even took on children’s science icon Dr. Bill “The Science Guy” Nye, in a confusing debate over climate change wherein she declared that increased carbon production was good for agriculture.
Some candidates—among them sitting senators—have attempted to dodge the issue entirely, either by refusing to use the term “climate change,” or by questioning the scientific consensus on humanity’s role in the warming planet.
Montana’s Matthew Rosendale said in a primary debate that he has yet to see enough evidence that would justify “imposing draconian regulation on our business and our industries... for the potential of possibly having a minuscule impact on the climate.”
Even Gov. Rick Scott, whose home state of Florida faces an existential threat from rising sea levels and hurricanes of increasing frequency and intensity, avoids any mention of climate change on a disaster preparedness page detailing his work helping local governments with “coastal resilience projects and sea level rise planning.” Scott, who once famously declared that he didn’t have an opinion on the veracity of anthropogenic climate change because “I’m not a scientist,” has even turned his personal moratorium on mentioning climate change into unwritten policy for the state of Florida.
The United Nations report, an analysis of more than 6,000 climate studies that was authored by 91 scientists from 40 countries, estimated that without an unprecedented transformation of the global energy economy, the first major effects of the crisis could come as soon as 2040, drowning major cities and causing irreversible damage on a planetary scale. The report cites a potential global economic cost of nearly $70 trillion in lost economic activity, infrastructure expenditures and humanitarian aid.
Trump has expressed suspicion of the report’s validity, telling reporters on Tuesday that “I want to look at who drew it. You know, which group drew it. I can give you reports that are fabulous and I can give you reports that aren’t so good.”
The only way to limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius)—a level that the report still warns would lead to sea-level rise, famine and the death of nearly all the world’s coral reefs—would “imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upscaling of investments in those options,” according to the report’s authors.
Given the current leadership of the world’s largest economy and second-biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, that kind of action appears highly unlikely. In addition to vowing withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the Trump administration has weakened carbon regulations, ignored its own reports on the dangers of global warming, and even cited predictions of dramatic rises in global temperatures to justify loosening fuel efficiency standards, the rationale being that since the fate of the planet is already sealed, there’s no reason to spend humanity’s last days driving lamer cars.
The political, economic and diplomatic response required to accomplish such a limiting of global warming is possible, the report states, but a scenario with “no documented historic precedent.”