Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, who the New Republic has described as “the worst science-denier in national politics,” will very likely head the Senate Environment Committee when the new Congress convenes in January.
This week’s midterm election was an undeniable sweep for the Republican party, which poses potential problems for enacting the more ambitious measures in President Obama’s climate action plan – a plan that had encountered multiple roadblocks prior to November 4 anyway.
Most outlets are proclaiming Inhofe as the next chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and that’s understandable. Inhofe held the position from 2003 to 2007 before the Democrats took the Senate and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) took his seat. Now that the Republicans are once again in control, Inhofe will very likely resume his post.
Is this the worst news to hit the environmental movement since we learned that climate scientists almost unanimously attribute climate change to human activities? If you believe Inhofe, the answer is no, because global warming is “the second-largest hoax ever played on the American people, after the separation of church and state.”
The Senator said that in 2005.
When asked about President Obama’s proposed government policies, Inhofe told journalist Jeff Foust, “Well, I don’t think the president has done many things right… His priorities are social engineering.”
He added, “I often say to people that we’re going to change the House and the Senate in November, and a lot of these things that he’s done we can undo, and I plan to do that.”
The Senator said that in 2010.
So should we be worried that Inhofe will try to dismantle the President’s proposal to reduce the country’s carbon pollution by 30 percent by 2030? Well, that depends on whether or not carbon emissions really affect the climate. Inhofe is fairly certain that they do not, but even if they did, it might work out for the best:
“It’s also important to question whether global warming is even a problem for human existence. Thus far no one has seriously demonstrated any scientific proof that increased global temperatures would lead to the catastrophes predicted by alarmists. In fact, it appears that just the opposite is true: that increases in global temperatures may have a beneficial effect on how we live our lives.”
Inhofe said that on the Senate Floor in 2003.
Should we be worried? Should we be worried that the politician who heads the Senate’s environmental policy doesn’t believe global warming will cause what the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calls “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” on humans and the environment, such as drought, food shortages, species extinction and extreme weather events? Those are the impending results if the planet does not cease its carbon emissions, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.
If you believe Inhofe, we don’t need to worry about any of that. As the good Senator wrote in his book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future,
“[T]he Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.’ My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”
Inhofe wrote that in 2012, which is why it’s worth worrying about the man from Oklahoma.
In his 2003 Senate speech, Inhofe said that “anyone who pays even cursory attention to the issue understands that scientists vigorously disagree over whether human activities are responsible for global warming, or whether those activities will precipitate natural disasters.”
It’s an argument that Republicans use a lot, and one assumes they get away with it because not enough people think politicians who lie deserve a time-out in the corner. But the fact is, 97.1 percent of scientists agree that climate change is real and that humans are the cause. Over 11,000 peer-reviewed articles written between 1991 and 2011 attest to this fact.
But, if Senator Inhofe truly believes his scripture, then it is easy to understand his dilemma. For the Senator, man has no power to undo what God has done, and so there is no need to invest in alternative energies that do not cause lung cancer. Coal is cheap, after all, and it’s good enough for the Chinese. The 670,000 people who died from smog-related illness, or the dozens of people who died from the worst heatwave in its modern history, perhaps they were misinformed. And the fact that China is actually planning a nationwide cap-and-trade program for 2016, that’s probably un-American – and maybe even sacrilegious.
But my intention is neither to make light of death nor religion. Death and religion are equally serious, and the hope is that the latter makes the former less chilling. But when the latter is used to ignore the former, to brush over the former, or as a means to justify the growth of the former, regardless of science and reason and proof, a serious reflection is in order.
My intention, really, is to say that Senator Inhofe is simply one member of a congressional body that bears little resemblance to the country it is supposed to represent.
As Jezebel news editor Erin Ryan recently pointed out, the “new US Senate is 80 percent male and 94 percent white, with an average age of 62. Meanwhile, in Real America, the national median age is 36.8 years, 50.8 percent of the country is female, and 27.6 percent of the population is nonwhite.”
Should we be worried about Inhofe? Sure, but how did Inhofe squirm his way into another six-year term? The Republicans are boasting that they won because the American people want change – as if we aren’t told that after every single election.
“Nope,” writes Ryan. “Old white people want change. And they’re the ones who get it, because they’re the ones who give enough of a shit to vote in midterms.”
Using NBC News statistics, Ryan explains exactly how this midterm shook out:
“This year, 37% of the people who voted were over 60. Only 12% of voters were under 30. Compare that to 2012, when Democrats were the ones celebrating — 19% of the vote came from people under 30 and only 25% from people over 60. In 2010, that gap widened up again; 12% of voters were under 30 and 32% were over 60. In that election, Republicans won big, swinging the House. In 2008, young people showed up, and Democrats won. It’s not rocket science.”
Climate change is not an issue being pursued by older voters. It’s a sad fact but one that has more to do with exposure and education than any sort of malevolence. As Ryan writes, harshly but succinctly:
“Young people are simply not showing the fuck up when they’re not voting for President. And as a result, the people sweeping into other political offices during midterms—from the local level all the way to Capitol Hill—are at best out of touch, and at worst raving lunatics with world views so dangerously antique that they defy parody.”
Let me be clear: Whether or not Inhofe really believes God controls global warming is not the issue. God may be used as his justification, but no one’s religion is on trial. The issue is that Inhofe refuses to believe in both God and science, and has spent two decades actively refusing to even consider the surfeit of evidence that supports it.
But he was reelected anyway, with 68 percent of the vote in Oklahoma.
Should environmentalists be worried? You’re damn right we should be worried – but not about Inhofe – about ourselves. If climate change mattered to 68 percent of Oklahomans, Inhofe wouldn’t be a problem.
At the end of the day, Inhofe is just a politician, and a politician will say anything he or she thinks the most amount of people want to hear. So if we don’t like what politicians like Inhofe are saying, it’s up to us to change their script.