Bad as the political pickings are here in Canada, what's going on in the United States is nothing short of dreadful. Bill McKibben, writing in The New Republic, explores how America's conservatives have turned radical over climate change.
"Climate legislation didn’t pass the current Congress, and it won’t have a prayer in the next one. If the Republicans take the Senate, James Inhofe has said that the Environment and Public Works Committee will “stop wasting all of our time on all that silly stuff, all the hearings on global warming.” And in the House, Representative Darrell Issa says that he would turn his Oversight and Government Reform Committee over to the eleventeenth investigation of Climategate, the British e-mail scandal. But, for the moment, it’s less the legislative fallout that interests me than what this denial of climate change says about modern conservatism. On what is quite possibly the single biggest issue the planet has faced, American conservatism has reached a near-unanimous position, and that position is: pay no attention to all those scientists.
Only 10 percent of Republicans think that global warming is very serious, according to recent data. Conservative opinion has been steadily hardening—for decades Republicans were part of the coalition on almost every environmental issue, but now it’s positively weird to think that as late as 2004, McCain thought it would make sense for a GOP presidential candidate to position himself as a fighter for climate legislation. And all of that is troubling. Because we’re going to be dealing with climate change for a very long time, and if one of the great schools of political thought in this country has checked out completely, that process is going to be even harder. I don’t have any expectation that conservatives will mute their tune between now and November—but it is worth thinking in some depth about what lies beneath this newly overwhelming sentiment."
McKibben argues that Big Carbon's money plays a part in today's Republican radicalism but says there's more to their madness than petro-bucks lining the pockets of Congressmen:
No, something else is causing people to fly into a rage about climate. Read the comments on one of the representative websites: Global warming is a “fraud” or a “plot.” Scientists are liars out to line their pockets with government grants. Environmentalism is nothing but a money-spinning “scam.” These people aren’t reading the science and thinking, I have some questions about this. They’re convinced of a massive conspiracy.
...there’s a kind of right-wing nationalism that demands we take no action until China, India, and the rest have played their part. But that doesn’t even make mathematical sense—China’s per capita emissions are one-quarter of ours. If leadership in the world means anything, then that imposes certain burdens on us. But it feels like resentment is becoming the leitmotif of conservatism, in a way that makes it ever more cramped and ever less noble. In this worldview, environmentalists are seen as scolds or even traitors. A recent poll asked right-wing bloggers to name the worst people in American history. President Obama came in second. The victor? Jimmy Carter, ten spots ahead of John Wilkes Booth (Al Gore was thirteenth, tied with Al Sharpton, Noam Chomsky, Jane Fonda, and Harry Reid). If Jimmy Carter was the worst guy the country ever produced, we’re doing pretty well—but surely it was his nagging reminders that there were limits to our national power that account for his ranking. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote an embarrassed piece earlier this fall about the failure of conservatives to take climate change seriously—it was the ’70s, “a great decade for apocalyptic enthusiasms,” that turned many of them off, he concluded. That’s not much of an argument—it’s like saying “conservatives mostly got it wrong on civil rights, so let’s never listen to them again about liberty and freedom.”
McKibbin says there's still reason for hope. It's coming from the evangelicals who are seeing the impacts of climate change on their missionary work abroad and from the Pentagon where global warming has been assessed as a threat to global security.
What missionaries and militaries have in common is that they have to deal with reality. In fact, that was always the trump card of conservatism: It refused to indulge in sentimentality and idealism, insisting on seeing the world as it was. But, at the moment, it’s the right that is indulging in illusion, insisting, fists balled up and face turning red, that the reports from scientists simply can’t be true.
Conservatives in much of the rest of the world have figured this out. The new Tory government in England is doing at least as much as its Labour predecessors; in Germany, Angela Merkel is presiding over one of the greatest renewable-energy buildouts ever. And eventually, I imagine, American conservatism, too, will come around and make its vital contributions to the task of figuring out what needs to be done to protect the civilization we should cherish. But we don’t have until eventually. We have, the scientists say, a very short time to make very big changes. So let’s hope the fever passes quickly.
This is no time to make nice with the Right, no matter what the party calls itself. Petro-pols can be found in abundance on both sides of the aisle in our House of Commons and they're growing Canada's problems not solving them. Liberal, New Democrat or Conservative we don't have until eventually for them to come around.