Back in 2007, arguably the most leader-like thing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin could have done was her executive order establishing a state “Climate Change Sub-Cabinet.” Her order reads, “Climate change is not just an environmental issue It is also a social, cultural, and economic issue important to all Alaskans.”
She went there. But nowadays, with the knob on her cray-cray meter cranked up to eleven, she says climate change is a hoax.
This week, she metaphorically donned an Alaskan tinfoil toque to pitch Climate Hustle, a new climate denial documentary. “We’re told by fearmongers that global warming is due to man’s activities and this presents strong arguments against that in a very relatable way,” she said in an interview with the political journal Variety Daily.
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Then, as I stewed about how shedding one’s rationality has become a cherished political talent in America, I ran down the list of politicians and media figures who, in playing to their conservative base, have abruptly decided that everything they’d heard from scientists about climate change was wrong.
So, with Ms. Palin in the Pole Position, here are the remaining members of America’s Dithering Dozen.
In September 2014, as the then-Louisiana governor prepared a run at the presidency, he acknowledged “human activity is having an impact on the climate.” That same day, in aspeech to the Heritage Foundation he said “for some on the left, climate change is simply a Trojan horse… to make changes to our economy.”
To be fair, Jindal has continued to acknowledge the human activity link to climate change as he continues to frame it as a left-right political issue. But when President Obama came to New Orleans to mark the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina last year, Jindal asked him to put a sock in it about climate change: “I would ask you to respect this important time of remembrance by not inserting the divisive political agenda of liberal environmental activism.”
Interesting fellow, that Newt. In the 1970’s, he was the faculty advisor to the Sierra Club chapter at West Georgia College. As a young congressman, he helped block a dam project on the Flint River. The site is a Georgia state park now. In 1980, his League of Conservation Voters score was 15 points higher than another young congressman, Al Gore.
Then came the Reagan Revolution, and Gingrich’s green began to tarnish. By 1995, he was Speaker of the House, promising an across-the-board rollback of environmental regulation. The green occasionally still shone through, in his advocacy for protecting besieged gorilla populations and notably in a 2007 ad with then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Seated on an oddly-placed sofa with the US Capitol in the background, Newt said, “our country must take action to address climate change.”
By 2011, when called to account by Fox News about the ad, Gingrich pretty much went into self-exorcism mode, saying the ad was “probably the dumbest single thing I’ve done in recent years.” The following year, amidst his unsuccessful presidential bid, he purged a climate change chapter from an essay-collection book he was editing after the chapter had come under withering attack by talkshow host Rush Limbaugh.
Before he ran for president, before his staffers engineered traffic jams as a form of political vengeance, before he endorsed Donald Trump and stood behind him bearing the facial expressions and body language of a hostage, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made it clear where he stood on climate change.
“Climate change is real,” he said in 2011. “Human activity plays a role in these changes, (and climate change is) impacting our state.”
But being a presidential candidate changed Christie’s tune, or at least his spin. Last December during the Paris climate summit, Christie pulled out one of the hardy perennials of ditherers in an interview with MSNBC: “The climate has been changing forever and it will always change and man will always contribute to it,” adding “It’s not a crisis.”
And the man who four years earlier counseled us to “defer to the experts” on climate, explained, “That’s my feeling. I didn’t say I was relying on any scientist.”
In 2004, Mitt Romney was the quintessential moderate Republican, governing a deep blue state. His Massachusetts Climate Protection Plan was the first for any US state. In its introduction, he fudged a bit in acknowledging climate change but called for action anyway: “If climate change is happening, the actions we take will help. If climate change is largely caused by human actions, this will really help. If we learn decades from now that climate change isn’t happening, these actions will still help our economy, our quality of life and the quality of our environment.”
By 2011, with his presidential push in full swing, Romney had flipped from straight-line action to a nebulous question mark. In an October campaign speech in Pittsburgh, he said, “We don’t know what’s causing climate change. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”
In 2003, Senator McCain teamed up with Joe Lieberman of Connecticut on the first of three attempts to pass a cap-and-trade bill. The first two were voted down, the third try died in committee.
He identified climate change and oil imports as national security issues in a 2007 speech.
By his 2008 presidential run, he was still all in, saying, “The facts of global warming demand our urgent attention, especially in Washington. Good stewardship, prudence, and simple common sense demand that we to act meet the challenge, and act quickly.”
But facing a primary challenge for his 2010 Senate reelection, McCain cooled considerably, dissing a successive cap-and-trade measure as “Cap and Tax.”
And last year, he mocked President Obama who, in a speech at the Naval Academy, had made the same links between climate and national security that McCain had embraced eight years before.
In 2007, Marco Rubio was bound for political glory, having risen to Speaker of Florida’s House of Representatives at age 36. He laid out a bold plan for his low-lying state to become “the Silicon Valley” of a remade energy landscape.
“Global warming, dependence of foreign sources of fuel, and capitalism have come together to create opportunities for us that were unimaginable just a few years ago.”
By 2014, as a US Senator and presidential aspirant, Rubio had become the Zen Master of the “I am not a scientist” meme. That year, he distanced himself from 2007 Marco Rubio, telling ABC’s Jonathan Karl, ” I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.”
The proprietor of the Fox News “No Spin Zone” has certainly done a 180. In a 2007 Sixty Minutes interview, O’Reilly asserted, “global warming is here,” and dismissed climate deniers and skeptics as idiots. Less than a year later on his own show, he spun around to declare climate science as “guesswork,” adding “I’ll leave the definitive word to the deity.”
Sir Rupert Murdoch:
In May, 2007, Sir Rupert announced that his multinational media corporation, News Corporation, had committed to being carbon neutral by the year 2010. In 2011, he announced that the mission had been accomplished. So he was a year late, it’s still mission accomplished.
Put aside how you might feel about arbitrary and vague definitions of “carbon neutral.” Murdoch guided his company to help solve a problem that most of his news outlets consistently say doesn’t exist. Then two years after that, he tweeted this:
George H.W. Bush:
The elder Bush ate Mike Dukakis’s lunch in the 1988 Presidential election as his campaign leveraged fear, race and much more against the scholarly Massachusetts Governor. In a far cry from today’s divisions, Bush also leveraged environmental concern, pointing to the noxious mess in Boston Harbor. Coming on the heels of a leap in concern over global warming via dramatic congressional testimony from NASA scientist James Hansen, Bush also made a promise:
“Those who think we are powerless to do anything about the greenhouse effect forget about the ‘White House effect’; as president, I intend to do something about it.”
George W. Bush:
Like father, like son. On Sept. 29, 2000, candidate Bush promised to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. On the other side of that tortuous election, he promised Senator Chuck Hagel he would do no such thing. The second Bush Administration went on to conduct energy policy meetings in virtual secrecy and alter or dismiss scientific reports on climate change, calling one such government work “a report put out by the bureaucracy.”
James Inhofe is to climate denial what Joey Chestnut is to eating 75 hot dogs in 10 minutes. Although he once said to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow: “I was actually on your side of this issue when I was chairing that committee and I first heard about this. I thought it must be true until I found out what it cost.”
Sen. James Inhofe:
Call it political hype, or simply call it BS, but Jim Inhofe said that what guided his relentless climate denial is the money, not the prevailing science. It’s apparently the motive for his declaring decades of climate science to be a “hoax.” That’s the literal definition of selling out. So we’ll close out the dithering dozen by re-stating my longstanding wish for the 81 year-old Senior Senator from Oklahoma: May you live to be a hundred. I’ll check in with you at that time to see how The Hoax is going.
Here they are: Several men running for president, others reaching for ratings or political survival, or pleasing the oil industry, and one Hockey Mom who just loves to be noticed. That’s a whole lot of bad leadership, moral cowardice, and cheap politics. It’s even cheaper by the dozen.