Hey Texas, Climate Change Denial Isn’t Funny Anymore


A version of this story ran in the August 2012 issue.

It’s not funny anymore. It’s depressing and scary. I’m talking about the almost-gleeful denial of climate change by Texas leaders, even as its effects become increasingly evident.

Look around the planet. Arctic sea ice is melting faster this summer than at any other time. In the U.S., the last 12 months were the hottest on record. March temperatures nationwide were 8.6 degrees above the average, and in some places 20 to 40 degrees above average. More than 15,000 warm temperature records were broken across the country that month. Massive wildfires in Colorado. Withering crops in farm states. A wild “super derecho” storm that rolled across the Midwest into Washington, D.C. Last year, Texas burned and sweated through the hottest summer ever recorded in U.S. history. It was pretty dry too.

Not all these extreme weather events are caused, or even worsened, by climate change. But scientists are increasingly confident that a warming planet raises the probability of extreme, record-breaking weather events. (The metaphor du jour is of a steroidal slugger breaking record after record.)

We’ve seen only 1 degree Fahrenheit of warming since the 1930s. What happens if global averages reach 2, 3, 5, or 10 degrees higher than what we’re accustomed to? The consequences are almost unimaginable.

For a time, I collected—like someone who morbidly clips obituaries out of newspapers—all the unbelievably idiotic things Texas politicians say about climate change. One of my favorites comes from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who last year said the following about carbon emissions: “It is almost the height of insanity of bureaucracy to have the EPA regulating something that is emitted by all living things.” Memo to EPA: Don’t worry about that leaking sewage plant. It’s just all-natural feces!

But seriously, does Abbott deny that carbon dioxide traps heat, a demonstrable property first posited by Joseph Fourier almost 190 years ago?

Here’s the entirety of Abbott’s reasoning: Plants need carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide good. No wonder Abbott’s frivolous lawsuits challenging EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act have been laughed out of the courtroom.

But there we go again. We’re dealing in facts, science, reality. The Greg Abbotts of the world don’t give a flip for facts. Theirs is a system of belief, well oiled by petro dollars and the crudely engineered fabrications of corporate-funded think tanks like The Heartland Institute and the Texas Public Policy Foundation. They live outside the city limits of the Reality-Based Community, in a magical outpost where humans plow rainforests under and wantonly emit massive amounts of carbon dioxide for more than a century and suffer no ill consequences. Texas is the top carbon emitter in the nation, and No. 7 in the world. What ever happened to taking responsibility for one’s own actions?

Abbott isn’t alone in this. Listen to Greg Parker, a tea party candidate in a runoff for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees the oil and gas industry (Editor’s note: this column was written before the run-off elections. Parker lost.). Parker is so passionate about this issue that in his spare time, when he’s not serving Precinct 3 of the Comal County Commissioners Court, he found time to write a book called Global Warming… Really?

On his website, Parker describes his opposition to “crap-n-charade,” his clever name for cap-and-trade, the free-market strategy for reducing carbon emissions once favored by Republicans:

“Putting aside the argument validating the science of global warming, this so called noble venture (legislation) masquerades as environmentally sensitive with a stated purpose of protecting the Earth from mankind. Cap and Trade is a creation of lawmakers based on a lie and a flawed understanding of the connections between carbon-dioxide emissions and climate change.”

Nevermind that something like 98 percent of the world’s climate scientists believe that greenhouse gas emissions are largely responsible for climate change. Who needs science when you have ideology? The science doesn’t agree with Parker’s ideology, so he chooses to ignore it. This willful ignorance has infected the Republican Party from top to bottom.

What’s to be done? Clearly something, since short of a moon colony we are stuck on this planet together. In Texas, we can’t ignore climate-change deniers: they run the state. But it’s past time for people to speak up. When Rick Perry says the planet is actually experiencing a global-cooling trend, he should be called on it by scientists, members of the media, everyone. Because the planet is warming. That’s a fact, folks. And we’re running out of time to do anything about it.

Correction: This piece has been corrected to say that 98 percent of climate scientists believe greenhouse gas emissisions are largely responsible for climate change. The Observer regrets the error. 

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