What your own eyes should tell you

The Covington News - - OPINION - Richard Co­hen is a writer with the Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group. He can be reached at co­henr@wash­post.com.

A friend of mine worked for a small-town news­pa­per years ago and had to write the weather re­port. The county fair was ap­proach­ing but the pre­dic­tion was for rain. So the ed­i­tors, fear­ing the wrath of lo­cal mer­chants, or­dered my friend to change “rainy” to “sunny.” That was the news­pa­per’s pol­icy. It has since been adopted by much of the Repub­li­can Party.

It is a stun­ning thing, when you think about it — GOP con­ser­va­tives adopt­ing a po­si­tion of stud­ied ig­no­rance or, to put it more hu­mor­ously, a ver­sion of what Chico Marx said in “Duck Soup”: “Well, who you gonna be­lieve, me or your own eyes?”

My own eyes show ris­ing ocean lev­els. They show the Arc­tic ice cap shrink­ing. They show mas­sive beach ero­sion, homes top­pling into the sea and me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal records in­di­cat­ing steadily in­creas­ing tem­per­a­tures. The Earth, our dear lit­tle planet, just had the hottest May on record.

My eyes read projections that are even more dire — drought, sti­fling heat, mas­sive and more fre­quent storms, parts of coastal cities un­der­wa­ter and, in the Amer­i­can South­east, an additional 11,000 to 36,000 people dy­ing per year from the ex­treme heat. These and other ghoul­ish sta­tis­tics are taken from a re­port on global warm­ing funded by for­mer Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Hank Paulson, for­mer New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and hedge fund man­ager Tom Steyer.

Paulson has been the point man on this. He served un­der Ge­orge W. Bush and he is, of course, a Repub­li­can. As such, he is the very epit­ome of the Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment so loathed by the Tea Party. Good Repub­li­can that he is, Paulson has pointed out that global warm­ing is bad for busi­ness (also for hu­man be­ings) and steps should be taken to mod­ify it. Among other things, the U.S. could re­duce car­bon emis­sions (mostly from coal-fired plants) that have con­trib­uted so much to global warm­ing. Paulson be­lieves, purely from the ev­i­dence, that hu­man be­ings have con­trib­uted to the com­ing cri­sis.

Not so, cries the Tea Party. Not so, echoes most of the GOP’s po­ten­tial pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates. The list of de­niers in­cludes Ted Cruz, Marco Ru­bio, Rand Paul and Rick San­to­rum. (“Tell that to a plant, how dan­ger­ous car­bon diox­ide is,” San­to­rum once said.) It’s not clear where Paul Ryan is on the sub­ject, and while Jeb Bush has con­ceded that global warm­ing is real, he has hardly been adamant that it’s at least partly man­made.

Pol­i­tics, not sci­ence, may firm up both sides of the de­bate. A Pew poll last Novem­ber found that 67 per­cent of Amer­i­cans think the planet is in­dis­putably get­ting warmer. Among Democrats and Demo­cratic lean­ers, how­ever, the fig­ure is 84 per­cent, but among Tea Party types it’s 25 per­cent. Maybe more to the point, only 9 per­cent of Tea Party mem­bers think “hu­man ac­tiv­ity” has con­trib­uted to global warm­ing. For their own sake, they ought to get out of the sun.

The Tea Party has taken a lick­ing in the re­cent Repub­li­can pri­maries — the de­feat of Eric Can­tor be­ing the ex­cep­tion. Still, its sway over con­gres­sional con­ser­va­tives is con­sid­er­able. For in­stance, the in­com­ing House ma­jor­ity leader, Kevin McCarthy of Cal­i­for­nia, has sud­denly seen the wis­dom in Tea Party op­po­si­tion to the hitherto non­con­tro­ver­sial Ex­port-Im­port Bank. With cli­mate change rank­ing low in ur­gency in a dif­fer­ent Pew poll, there’s not much per­cent­age in mod­er­ate Repub­li­cans stand­ing up for sci­ence and com­mon sense. Paulson et al. are to be com­mended for their ef­fort, but they are — as Mike Bloomberg found out years ago — in the wrong party.

What possesses the Tea Party on cli­mate change? Some of it has to do with tra­di­tional anti-es­tab­lish­ment sen­ti­ment. If the elite say it’s get­ting hot, then it must be get­ting cold. Mostly, though, their po­si­tion is rooted in a rag­ing an­tipa­thy to­ward (hiss!) big govern­ment. Cli­mate change is hardly a lo­cal prob­lem. Strictly speak­ing, it isn’t even a na­tional prob­lem. (China and In­dia are now ma­jor pol­luters.) It will take na­tional and in­ter­na­tional agree­ments to deal with global warm­ing and Tea Party types would rather — al­most lit­er­ally — burn in a kind of hell than sub­mit to Wash­ing­ton or, God for­bid, the United Na­tions.

So, re­ports will be is­sued and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion will pump for a re­duc­tion in car­bon emis­sions and much of the Repub­li­can Party will deny the un­de­ni­able. But the wa­ters will rise and the coun­try will bake. Years from now, people gasp­ing for air will ask how we let this hap­pen and the GOP, stick­ing to its plan, will deny that any­thing is hap­pen­ing at all. Have an iced tea, y’all.

RICHARD CO­HEN

COLUM­NIST

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