Is it all a Hoax? The GOP and Climate Change

The U.S. Republican Party’s relationship with climate change is a complicated one. Will increasing evidence fundamentally change the GOP?

Most people today believe that the U.S. Republican Party (“GOP”) firmly denies climate change. How will it impact the party and its credibility once, presumably, more evidence amasses that confirms the views of the overwhelming majority of the scientific community? The Republican Party’s stance on climate change is a complicated one…

Current Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed doubt in the science behind climate change, and his policy proposals reflect that doubt. [1] Additionally, he also has called global warming a “hoax” and “bullshit” via Twitter. [2] Trump’s denial of climate change has also led him to make false claims. For example, on July 26, 2016, Trump told Bill O’Reilly at Fox News that “people” at the Copenhagen conference in 2009 were “sending out emails, scientists practically calling it a hoax, and they were laughing at it,”. However, an independent international investigation set up by the University of East Anglia found no such wrongdoing or manipulation. [3]

First of all, although he has denied the existence of climate change as a candidate, Trump has actually accepted the reality of global warming as a businessman.  For example, Trump International Golf Links Ireland applied for a permit to build a sea wall to protect the Irish golf course from “global warming and its effects.” The permit explicitly cites global warming and its consequences – increased erosion due to rising sea levels and extreme weather this century – as a chief justification for building the structure. [4]

Secondly, the Republican Party has not always denied climate change. Most recently, other GOP front runners such as Ted Cruz have denied man-made climate change, and two years ago only 8 Republicans in Congress, out of 278 in the caucus, made on-the-record comments accepting the reality of man-made global warming. [5] However, only eight years ago, the 2008 Republican platform acknowledged that human activity had increased the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and that “common sense dictates that the United States should take measured and reasonable steps.” The platform went on to say that “Republicans support technology-driven, market-based solutions that will decrease emissions” and “mitigate the impact of climate change where it occurs.” [6] And even further back, a Republican president – Richard Nixon – signed into law the Clean Air Act, approved the Council on Environmental Quality and established the two federal agencies most focused on climate change today: the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. [11]

Additionally, not every Republican politician denies climate change – some on the very contrary. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger (Republican governor of California 2003-2011) has been one of the most outspoken U.S. governors to tackle global warming and reduce emissions [7] and has implemented significant environmental protection legislation in California. [8] Also, former GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has spoken in favor of investing in green energy [9].  Republican Senator of South Carolina Lindsey Graham has even called out members of his party who dismiss climate change. [10]

Some people suggest Republicans politicians’ climate change denial stems from their pressure from the oil lobby. In fact, 80% of the energy industry’s contributions have gone to Republicans, who have implemented tax breaks and other favorable legislation for the oil industry on a nationwide scale [12]. What some people view as lobbying, others see as corruption – either way, a causal relationship is difficult to prove and not the topic of this post. Regardless, oil companies themselves have actually accepted climate change and announced or implemented significant changes. [13]

Finally, many Republican politicians may escape responsibility after all by manipulating semantics, i.e. accepting “climate change”, but denying that it is “man-made”. [10] This causal relationship between “man-made” and “climate change” is obviously more difficult to prove and therefore, in their view, still absolves them of any requirement to take action to reduce emissions.

To summarize, in my view, a potential origin of this problem is the binary and reactionary nature of the U.S. two-party system which causes the other party to automatically adopt the opposite view of an issue. However, given the increasingly overwhelming scientific evidence, the Republican Party needs to take a clear and decisive position and acknowledge man-made climate change if it is to maintain its credibility.  If the GOP is looking to differentiate itself from the Democratic Party, it should do so via offering innovative ideas on the implementation of green policy – what to tackle first, how to tackle it, and how to finance it.

 

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[1] The Candidates on Climate Change. 2016. The Candidates on Climate Change. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.factcheck.org/2016/11/the-candidates-on-climate-change/. [Accessed 04 November 2016].

[2] Twitter. 2016. Donald J. Trump on Twitter: “This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps,and our GW scientists are stuck in ice”. [ONLINE] Available at: https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump/status/418542137899491328. [Accessed 04 November 2016].

[3] Some ‘Climategate’ Conclusions. 2016. Some ‘Climategate’ Conclusions. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.factcheck.org/2010/04/some-climategate-conclusions/. [Accessed 04 November 2016].

[4] POLITICO. 2016. Donald Trump acknowledges climate change — at his golf course – POLITICO. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.politico.com/story/2016/05/donald-trump-climate-change-golf-course-223436. [Accessed 04 November 2016].

[5] @politifact. 2016. Jerry Brown says ‘virtually no Republican’ in Washington accepts climate change science | PolitiFact . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2014/may/18/jerry-brown/jerry-brown-says-virtually-no-republican-believes-/. [Accessed 04 November 2016].

[6] ThinkProgress. 2016. The Republican Platform Once Tried To Fight Climate Change. Now It Denies It.. [ONLINE] Available at: https://thinkprogress.org/the-republican-platform-once-tried-to-fight-climate-change-now-it-denies-it-8550236c481#.ni4zzpd4q. [Accessed 04 November 2016].

[7] MSNBC. 2016. Schwarzenegger: Climate change is ‘the issue of our time’ | MSNBC. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/schwarzenegger-climate-change-the-issue-our-time. [Accessed 04 November 2016].

[8] Energy & the Environment | USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy. 2016. Energy & the Environment | USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.schwarzeneggerinstitute.com/policy-areas/energy-and-the-environment. [Accessed 04 November 2016].

[9] Forbes Welcome. 2016. Forbes Welcome. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/eco-nomics/2011/06/03/mitt-romneys-environmental-record/#2fab98db37c8. [Accessed 04 November 2016].

[10] Where the 2016 Republican candidates stand on climate change – CBS News. 2016. Where the 2016 Republican candidates stand on climate change – CBS News. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/where-the-2016-republican-candidates-stand-on-climate-change/. [Accessed 04 November 2016].

[11] Rolling Stone. 2016. Why Republicans Still Reject the Science of Global Warming – Rolling Stone. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/why-republicans-still-reject-the-science-of-global-warming-w448023. [Accessed 04 November 2016].

[12] Big Oil’s Influence in Washington . NOW | PBS. 2016. Big Oil’s Influence in Washington . NOW | PBS. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/347/oil-politics.html. [Accessed 04 November 2016].

[13] Financial Times. 2016. . [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/d3764126-a287-11e6-aa83-bcb58d1d2193. [Accessed 04 November 2016];  Silvia Amaro, Sam Meredith, Hadley Gamble. 2016. Oil companies invest $1 billion to tackle climate change. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.cnbc.com/2016/11/04/oil-companies-invest-1-billion-to-tackle-climate-change.html. [Accessed 04 November 2016].

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13 thoughts on “Is it all a Hoax? The GOP and Climate Change

  1. Great choice of topic! The Republican party has definitely struggled with confronting the issue of climate change, largely due to many of the reasons you noted in your post. I really appreciated how you gave specific examples of individuals and how their actions or words have deviated from the stance of the candidate at the top of the ballot, and even showed how Trump’s business operations belie his public denials of global warming. I do think that this is just one of several issues that challenge the core of the GOP’s philosophy, and it will be very interesting to see how their stance evolves over time on this topic a few years from now.

  2. Super interesting and relevant reading for the week, Clemens. I assumed that, while I think the party is extremely behind on acknowledging this issue, that it was at least progressing in the right direction. I hadn’t realized that it is actually regressing from more progressive stances in the past.

    I’d be curious to see how much of this is “marketing.” For example, where do Republican congressmen fall in votes for climate-related legislation? The fact that few of them are making public statements rejecting climate change gives me some hope that they are acting more rationally than some of their leadership’s statements suggest.

    I’m also interested in your opinions about what other thought leaders or the public can do to influence the situation. Your recommendations for the party are excellent. How to we get them to that point?

    1. Thank you for your comment Kristen. In response to your comment about “marketing”, I agree that it is sometimes difficult to separate “words” from “actions” in politicians. There are definitely multiple Republican governors who have implemented legislation to protect the environment from pollution (such as disposal of chemical waste, etc.), but that’s not the same as acknowledging climate change and reducing CO2 emissions. There may be more than Arnold Schwarzenegger, but I only brought him up because he was the most outspoken example. It would obviously take a lot more comprehensive research than this blog post to figure out how politicians’ public statements correlate with, or contradict, their voting as well as the measures they implement in their home state. I think this problem is also partially rooted in issue of a 2-party system: with only 2 parties for a country of 350 million, it is often difficult to understand what a party really stands for, since each party is comprised of so many different (and often contradicting) statements, opinions and policies.
      In response to your second point about what can influence them… I think this is challenging. If not even the Pope can convince them [1][2]… who can? I think younger people are more educated about this issue, so hopefully it will change meaningfully as the next generation puts more pressure on politicians.

      [1] Crux. 2016. Pope calls global warming sin, says protecting creation is work of mercy. [ONLINE] Available at: https://cruxnow.com/vatican/2016/09/01/pope-calls-global-warming-sin-says-protecting-creation-work-mercy/. [Accessed 06 November 2016].
      [2] POLITICO. 2016. Pope Francis’s climate message unlikely to sway Republicans – POLITICO. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/09/pope-francis-climate-change-republicans-213973. [Accessed 06 November 2016].
      Add to My References

  3. Not only am I surprised that this is a semi-official stance taken by the GOP, I am also disturbed by it. The overwhelming data supporting the facts behind man made climate change are apparently not enough. I can´t help but feel that something has gone wrong with how environmentalists and other spokespeople have made the case for climate change. Al Gore and DiCaprio documentaries are not going to be enough. At this point I don´t believe that climate change non believers can be convinced if the strategy does not shift from data to emotions, as well as a focus on how combating climate change will not change their status quo.

  4. Love the post! This is definitely a very relevant topic right now. Given the amount of support that the oil industry has provided to the GOP (and maybe other industries or organizations that would benefit from the GOP taking a stance against climate change), I wonder how many GOP senators/representatives actually believe that climate change is not real or not due to human activities. I feel like given the plethora of research and evidence supporting climate change, it has to be hard to take such a hard stance against it. I thought it was really interesting that Trump’s own organizations have made changes citing climate change but Trump refuses to acknowledge it officially. I’m curious to see how many other Republicans have also privately acted on climate change in their own lives or for their businesses, but still publicly deny it.

  5. It looks like political organizations act on vested interests, but businesses do too. However, It might be easier for a political organization to deny climate change – without affecting its reputation. The reason for that is that they appeal towards a base and this base may have also have a vested interest to deny climate change. Therefore, it looks like that some political organization may not be affected by reputational damage but on the contrary, it may feed in their reputational capital (like a win-win situation). On the other hand, most businesses would only be hurting their reputation (and this damaging their firm financially) with such claims.

  6. Interesting post, Clemens. A few thoughts that jump out – When Trump speaks about anything, he does so with the idea of creating sensationalizing headlines, which is part of a well thought out strategy, given his paucity of funds. Also given the fact that his stance on pretty much everything from immigration to international relations has seen a 180 degree reversal, I’m not sure that this is the positioning that he believes in. Also, when a presidential candidate has such secretive plans for his plans to tackle ISIS, which is a more important issue as far as the elections is concerned, having a carefully thought out plan seems beyond his grasp. That being said, I agree with the seriousness posed. For decades, we have struggled to understand whether man made climate change is actually real or a hoax. There are experts on both sides with tonnes of arguments. Within this divided construct, what an American presidential candidate says is critical as the world follows the American presidential race like no other.

  7. Spectacular post! It is interesting how mostly the GOP uses the “climate hoax” argument for 2 reasons: 1. lobbying for major oil and gas companies 2. associating religion to the impossibility of human induced climate change. And although the first one is the main propeller of the “no global climate change” poster, the second one is equally important. Religion is important for the Republican Party and in Christianity one cannot admit that humans can be responsible for such a global and transformational change. If the party took a strong stance regarding climate change, they would go against their fundamental core (though worthwhile to note that there is upcoming progress in that area). I think the way for the party to have their cake and eat it too would be to start a nation wide educational campaign, regardless of the fact that initially they might not be too popular with very conservative individuals (who admittedly are their target audience). However, it is important to observe that the growing older population should not be the voter target of the party. The party admitting the causes and effects of climate change will get them popularity with young conservatives (who despite their affiliations are very likely to agree that global climate change is a real issue).

    1. Thanks for your post, Ina! Interesting that you brought up religion as a reason. I understand why you brought it up, but the surprising thing is that even the Pope acknowledged that climate change is man-made, and called global warming a sin [1]. He specifically called for action to reduce man-made climate change [2]

      [1] Crux. 2016. Pope calls global warming sin, says protecting creation is work of mercy. [ONLINE] Available at: https://cruxnow.com/vatican/2016/09/01/pope-calls-global-warming-sin-says-protecting-creation-work-mercy/. [Accessed 06 November 2016].
      [2] Crux. 2016. Pope Francis pleads with nations to act now on climate change. [ONLINE] Available at: https://cruxnow.com/papal-visit/2015/09/25/pope-francis-pleads-with-nations-to-act-now-on-climate-change/. [Accessed 07 November 2016].

  8. Great post! And extremely relevant given what is at stake tomorrow. What I am struggling with, is do members of the GOP actually believe that climate change is a “hoax” or is this merely a strategy to cater to their supporters aka major oil and gas lobbyist? It is extremely fascinating how far politicians will go to support the general perceptions of their respective parties. In this instance, though Trumps own organization has recognized the impact of climate change and implemented the necessary procedures to mitigate it, he refuses to acknowledge climate change publicly. How far is too far? Given the magnitude of what is at stake for our environment, though I have my reservations, I hope to see the GOP party take a different position in the years to come. Especially, if Trump wins. I’ll be at the polls early tomorrow!

  9. Definitely a timely topic, Clemens!

    I’ve always assumed that Republican politicians’ statements about climate change were disingenuous—that though they understood that climate change is real and man-made, their public statements to the contrary were to satisfy other interests such as garnering votes or raising money as you suggest. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case. A Gallup poll from last year found that with more education, Republicans were actually more likely to believe that media reports of climate change are exaggerated (74% of Republican college grads), while Democrats’ opinions were more in line with the scientific consensus the more education they had (only 15% of college-educated Democrats thought news about the seriousness of global warming was exaggerated) (Frank Newport and Andrew Dugan, “College-Educated Republicans Most Skeptical of Global Warming,” [http://www.gallup.com/poll/182159/college-educated-republicans-skeptical-global-warming.aspx] accessed November 2016). It’s a disturbing finding, and unfortunately makes your hope that Republicans will take a clear and decisive position to acknowledge climate change unlikely.

    To Kristen’s question, the League of Conservation Voters scores each member of Congress on their environmental voting record. I can’t speak to the methodology, but there is some overlap between the parties: Democrats in the House range from 31% to 100% lifetime scores, while Republicans range from 0% to 63%. That being said, they’re about as polarized as Clemens suggests: in the House, 129 Democrats have scores of 90% or above, while 215 Republicans have scores of 10% or below. (League of Conservation Voters National Environmental Scorecard, [http://scorecard.lcv.org/members-of-congress] accessed November 2016)

    The GOP did an admirable job of assessing its weaknesses after the 2012 presidential election defeat—in particular noting the need to gain more support among latino voters. Though that plan was (spectacularly) not successful this cycle, the idea may still hold sway for the party in the future. In order for a party to be held responsible for its views on climate change, though, we’d at least need to start with it being mentioned in the primetime debates. As you note, Clemens, there’s still a long way to go.

    Peter

  10. Great post! I love that you were able to slip in the positive steps that your Austrian counterpart in California has taken! Unfortunately, the power that lobbyists have in DC is both pervasive and formidable, and can only be overcome through legislation, which is ironically influenced by the lobbyists themselves. While both the Dems and GOP are influenced heavily by lobbying organizations, the problem that the Republican party specifically seems to have is that they received support from many of the socially irresponsible lobbying parties – i.e. the NRA, Oil & Gas, Tobacco, etc.. They’ve made a name for themselves as the party that supports industries that are perceived to have little regard for human life or the environment. While, the Republican base may support this ideology as well, the independents and those at the center of the aisle are less tolerant of this. If the GOP wants to gain ground with those voters they’ll need to handle issues like climate change more skillfully so as not to marginalize these voters by catering solely to industry’s interests.

  11. Glad you chose this topic! It’s been interesting to see how the GOP has actually regressed on this issue over the last 8 years, moving against the current, rather than moving towards accepting the scientific consensus as it has strengthened. As you mentioned, ironically enough, in 2008, John McCain actually ran on a pretty aggressive climate change platform. One thing that’s been interesting re: your point about manipulating semantics is that I think there are major voices in the party who privately acknowledge the existence of the warming planet, yet think that we are too late or that any solutions we have are futile, so instead, we should focus on other issues that affect all our lives in the here and the now. It is kind of a truth avoidance kind of mechanism- and given all the tax cutting, it’s convenient to decide that we don’t have to do any spending on this area! Ross Douthat wrote an interesting point justifying this kind of viewpoint among conservatives a few years back: http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/24/reform-conservatism-and-climate-change/?_r=0

    I also think we should consider the position of the party on the issue within the context of its broader, and extreme anti-regulatory rhetoric over the past decade. I think there are many leaders in the party who know the problem is there, and yet, think that a government regulator is not going to be the actor to solve it (and may instead make it worse?). I wholly disagree with this view (to me, it is obvious that there is market failure here/negative externalities that the government must step in to address) but it is a least perhaps a more intellectually consistent explanation.

    ,

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