Former Vice President Dick Cheney has to be smiling. With one exception, none of the Republicans running for the Senate — including the 20 or so with a serious chance of winning — accept the scientific consensus that humans are largely responsible for global warming.
The candidates are not simply rejecting solutions, like putting a price on carbon, though these, too, are demonized. They are re-running the strategy of denial perfected by Mr. Cheney a decade ago, repudiating years of peer-reviewed findings about global warming and creating an alternative reality in which climate change is a hoax or conspiracy.
Some candidates are emphatic in their denial, like the Nevada Republican Sharron Angle, who flatly rejects “the man-caused climate change mantra of the left.” Others are merely wiggly, like California’s Carly Fiorina, who says, “I’m not sure.” Yet, over all (the exception being Mark Kirk in Illinois), the Republicans are huddled around an amazingly dismissive view of climate change.
A few may genuinely believe global warming is a left-wing plot. Others may be singing the tune of corporate benefactors. And many Republicans have seized on the cap-and-trade climate bill as another way to paint Democrats as out-of-control taxers.
In one way or another, though, all are custodians of a strategy whose guiding principle has been to avoid debate about solutions to climate change by denying its existence — or at least by diminishing its importance. The strategy worked, destroying hopes for Congressional action while further confusing ordinary citizens for whom global warming was already a remote and complex matter. It was also remarkably heavy-handed.
According to Congressional inquiries, White House officials, encouraged by Mr. Cheney’s office, forced the Environmental Protection Agency to remove sections on climate change from separate reports in 2002 and 2003. (Christine Todd Whitman, then the E.P.A. administrator, has since described the process as “brutal.”)
The administration also sought to control or censor Congressional testimony by federal employees and tampered with other reports in order to inject uncertainty into the climate debate and minimize threats to the environment.
Nothing, it seemed, could crack the administration’s denial — not Tony Blair of Britain and other leaders who took climate change seriously; not Mrs. Whitman (who eventually quit after being undercut by Mr. Cheney, who worked for the energy company Halliburton before he became vice president and received annual checks while in office); and certainly not the scientists.
In 2007, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its most definitive statement on the human contribution to climate change, Mr. Cheney insisted that there was not enough evidence to just “sort of run out and try to slap together some policy that’s going to try to solve the problem.” To which Mrs. Whitman, by then in private life, said: “I don’t see how he can say that with a straight face anymore.”
Nowadays, it is almost impossible to recall that in 2000, George W. Bush promised to cap carbon dioxide, encouraging some to believe that he would break through the partisan divide on global warming. Until the end of the 1990s, Republicans could be counted on to join bipartisan solutions to environmental problems. Now they’ve disappeared in a fog of disinformation, an entire political party parroting the Cheney line.
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