How Partisan is Climate Denial?

By Chris Mooney | December 1, 2010 3:18 pm

I wasn’t done with Sherwood Boehlert’s recent, sad Washington Post oped yet. I just did a much more comprehensive take over at DeSmogBlog, where I’m going to be contributing more frequently–explaining why Boehlert is wrong about the Reagan administration’s environmental science record, and how this error partly underscores how overwhelmingly partisan the climate debate now is:

Poor Sherry Boehlert. On the one hand, his example proves that Republicans today canstill support mainstream climate science. The issue will never be 100 percent partisan until there isn’t a single Republican who cuts against the grain, and with old school moderates like Boehlert around, that will never happen.

Nevertheless, the issue is overwhelmingly partisan, as we can see both from the composition of Congress, and also from polling data showing that political party affiliation is a leading predictor of a person’s views on global warming in the U.S.

Furthermore, we are where we are today because of a long history in which the U.S. Republican Party has drifted farther and farther away from the scientific community. That history starts with the party’s icon, Ronald Reagan, and proceeds through many other party leaders up to the present.

So just how partisan is global warming denialism? At this point, the answer is: very. And how much does that have to do with our failure to address the problem? A lot.

You can read the full length DeSmogBlog piece here.


Comments (11)

  1. Randy

    Though scientists should obviously strive to communicate well, the blame for the poor state of science in the United States should not be dumped on their shoulders. We now have a major political party that has simply rejected the concept of science, the concept that you can perform critical analysis by carefully looking at data. For example, the Republican governor of my state (Alaska) was asked during the recent campaign whether he felt the earth was closer to 6000 or 6 billion years old and he replied that “Only God knows”. With rigid ideological attitudes like that, scientists can talk about climate science or evolution until they are blue in the face and they still won’t change the minds of these people.

  2. You are historically correct, Chris.

  3. Ex-Representative Boehlert writes one oped in WaPo while current CA representative Dana Rohrabacher made a 25 min pitch to the House Republicans as to why he should head the Science Committee where he will surely try to out deny Sen. Inhofe. That should be a true measure of partisanship.

    We missed a great chance when Debbie Cook ran against him. But we could not get progressives to fund the campaign. The other thing that he will do is to curtail any scientific dealings with China as he is an aggressive supporter of anything Taiwanese.

  4. As a matter of historical correctness, the four cornerstones of worldwide conservation law were enacted by the pen of Richard Milhous Nixon:

    1. National Environmental Policy Act.
    2. U.S. Clean Water Act
    3. U.S. Clean Air Act.
    4. U.S. Endangered Species Act.

    Ronald Wilson Reagan ran on a campaign to repeal and/or knee-cap all four of these laws. He failed in the large sense, but did succeed at hobbling them to some extent.

    So Chris’ thesis stands as correct.

  5. Michael

    AGW is dead. Dead. Dead.

    The single greatest science scam of history is shown to be such by the COLD, hard facts now being observed by everyone. Major countries are opting out in droves, Japan being the latest to spurn the ridiculous Kyoto power-grab/tax ‘protocols’.

    Let us now turn to real conservation of our planet’s natural diversity and beauty instead of this pathetic attempt at a world-wide cabal.

    Sadly, the damage done to science will take generations to repair, as this issue [AGW] has been politicised beyond redemption. There is no longer any pretense of using actual scientific methodology here, just two warring camps with entrenched positions.

    This will open the door wider for the wacky creationists, ancient astronauts believers, and pseudo-scientists of every ilk to now come forward with their “I told you so” theories of some kind of conspiracy to keep their views out of the mainstream. Sad indeed.

    I am an atheist who believes that the world is about 4.5 billion years old. I believe in evolutionary theory [but not strict Darwinism], quantum theory, and relativity. I dispise pseudo-science in all of it forms. Having said that, I have been a ‘denier’ of AGW for a couple of years now, after doing my own, non-political, investigation. I have been a registered independent for over 46 years, and hate the petty political bickering that I see every day.

    There should now be a major moverment to keep ALL politics out of science, and return to the scientific method instead of a neo-Aristotalian showing-of-hands ‘consensus’. Let’s have some real science instead of political science.

  6. Sorbit

    True, AGW joins the Piltdown Man, Cold Fusion and polywater in being a candidate for biggest scientific scam EVER.

  7. Bobito

    We not only need to separate politics from science, but politics from religion. There are many non-religious conservatives. The server majority of whom don’t fit the bill of “science hating”.

    Too many liberals dismiss a conservative “denier” because they just assume “this person can’t have a valid opinion because they don’t even believe in evolution!”

    The partisanship in the “War on Science” is almost exclusively due to the fact that fundamental religious types are conservative in ideology; thus, they are Republicans. So much of the rhetoric is politicians playing to their base.

    The good news is that the church is losing. Religious fundamentalists are a dying breed (in the developed world at least). It will be nice when their numbers dwindle to the point where they can no longer affect policy and non-religious conservatives can have a party of their own.

    There is no changing the opinion of a religious fundamentalist, nothing you can say will trump the threat of eternal damnation.

    As an example: When Shimkus made the (paraphrase) “Don’t worry about AGW because Jesus will save us” comments, I have no doubt that an equal number of conservatives cringed as did cheer…

  8. Nullius in Verba

    “And how much does that have to do with our failure to address the problem? A lot.”

    Does anyone know what the partisan divide was in the vote on the Byrd-Hagel resolution?

  9. Matteo

    How partisan is climate “denial”?

    I don’t know, how partisan is climate hysteria?


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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