This week the Pope released his historical encyclical on climate change, decrying humanity's abuse of the earth and calling for immediate action. Republican presidential candidates were rankled, arguing that His Holiness should refrain from weighing in on scientific matters, since he is not a scientist. Neither, they insist, are they. Bob raises an eyebrow at the perennial non-denial denial of climate change.
Song: Bob McRae, "Oklahoma"
BOB: Remember the good old days, when Republican politicians beholden to the energy lobby simply bloviated nonsense about climate change? Like Sen. James Inhofe of….
(singing) Ohhhhhhhh ….
(singing)klahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plain....
BOB: ...who once tossed a snowball on the floor of the Senate to prove the atmosphere isn’t warming.
INHOFE: I asked the chair, I said, you know what this is? It’s a snowball from outside here. So it’s very, very cold out. So here, Mr. President, catch this.
BOB: And, who gets his climate data from the Bible.
INHOFE: My favorite is Genesis 8:22 which is ‘as long as the earth remains there will be spring time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night,’ you know, God’s still up there.
BOB: God help us, that from the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Back in the day, that stuff was reliable red meat to the base. But now, at last, the base is gradually coming to its senses.
ANCHOR: 52% of Republican respondents agreed that a climate deal would be a good idea.
BOB: Among those to climb aboard the Sky is Falling bandwagon: Pope Francis, who warned this week, quote, “our house is going to ruin,” and declared a moral duty to act.
[CLIP: Pope speaking in Italian]
BOB: And that dude has a pretty sizeable base himself. So suddenly, entering an election year, explicit climate deniers are an embarrassment and political liability. And so fellow Republicans have given Senator Snowball the senicide treatment, launching him adrift on an ice floe while the rest of the party takes up a less confrontational, but possibly more insidious climate-rhetoric strategy: the non-denial denial.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says,
MCCONNELL: I’m not a scientist.
BOB: He’s just trying to protect the coal industry and Kentucky jobs from the War on Coal. Speaker of the House John Boehner says..
BOEHNER: I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change.
BOB: Still he blocks cap-and-trade or any environmental protection legislation that comes his way. Florida governor Rick Scott also says, quote, “I’m not a scientist,” but while rising tides threaten Florida’s tourism economy, his administration forbids the use of the term “climate change” in any state publication or correspondence.
And then there Scott’s gubernatorial predecessor, Jeb Bush.
BUSH: I’ve decided that I’m a candidate for President of the United States of America.
BOB: A candidate, yes, he says, but a scientist, no no no... That’s for the eggheads -- but why do they have to get get all pushy about it? Jeb Bush:
BUSH:I don’t think the science is clear of what percentage is manmade and what percentage is natural. I just don’t-- It’s convoluted. And for the people to say the science is decided on this, it’s really arrogant, to be honest with you. It’s this intellectual arrogance that you can’t even have a conversation about it, even.
BOB: Good folks talk about things. They sit at the diner over coffee, maybe after church, or after clearing brush, and they chew it over and come to an understanding. But these arrogant tree-huggers don’t even want to listen.
BUSH: Why do we have to have a debate where people that may have some doubts about this are considered Neanderthals, that’s the arrogance.
BOB: And thus can a candidate have it both ways: distance himself from extremist climate deniers while simultaneously characterizing the rational evaluation of scientific evidence as elitist condescension. Pink meat to the base, and no big risk of alienating the Koch Brothers.
There is, of course, a long, bipartisan history of populist rhetoric, pandering to the “common sense” of the unsophisticated, salt-of-the-earth “ordinary American” who doesn’t put on airs. Here was Bill Clinton:
CLINTON: Every one of us knows someone who’s worked hard and played by the rules and still been hurt by this system…
MCCAIN: Only because Joe the Plumber asked him the right question right here in Ohio!
And some just folks talking about the President:
SERVER: “I served the President a Miller Lite! ”
ANNOUNCER: “The President also let someone buy him a Bud Lite.”
SPECTATOR: “I offered to arm wrestle the President to gain his vote and the President said, “Hey let’s play some basketball instead. So, yeah, it was fun.”
SANTORUM: We will never have the elite smart people on our side.
BOB: That last voice was Rick Santorum, who is also running for president and also an avowed know-nothing. Here’s the former Republican Senator from Pennsylvania explaining to Fox’s Chris Wallace why fellow non-scientist, Pope Francis, should pipe down about climate change, on account of its none of his beeswax.
SANTORUM:v I’m just saying: what should the Pope use this moral authority for? And I would make the argument--
WALLACE: He would say he’s protecting the earth.
SANTORUM: I would say that’s an important thing to do but I think there are more pressing problems confronting the earth than climate change...
BOB: Really, like what? The flat tax? But such is the nature of debate when the salvation of the planet becomes just another battle in the culture wars -- and campaign donations are on the line. The “conversation” that Jeb Bush and his fellow candidates want to have is reduced to them-against-us. Which isn’t a conversation. It’s an incitement.
Of course, truth be told, there is no conversation to be had about climate science. Anymore than you can have a “conversation” about smoking and cancer -- although that is precisely the line Big Tobacco peddled for decades about what it called the smoking “controversy.”
So, yes, Governor Bush, you are correct. The truth is arrogant. It has no patience for demagoguery or misdirection or lies. You don’t have to be a scientist to get that. Just an honest broker, unwilling to cash checks from polluters -- while day by day, decade by decade, our world, what Pope Francis calls “our house” -- is burnt by the sun.
Song: “Oklahoma” by Gordon McRae
BOB: That’s it for this week’s show. On The Media is produced by Kimmie Regler, Meara Sharma, Alana Casanova-Burgess, Jesse Brenneman, Kasia Mychajlowcyz, and Sam Dingman. We had more help from Jenna Kagel and Maya Brownstein. And our show was edited by…Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineer this week was Greg Rippin.
BROOKE: Katya Rogers is our executive producer. Jim Schachter is WNYC’s Vice President for news. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. I’m Brooke Gladstone.