Denial grips the Republican fringe

 

It's a sad thing to see the fundamentalist wing of the Republican Party skew its values to line up with those of the money-driven Wall Street wing when global warming is at issue. But it is even sadder to see even the non-religious side of the GOP adopting true-believer doublethink to sustain these monetized values.

The Christian Broadcasting Network recently posted an article called "Dispelling the myths of global warming" that gives the business-oriented Cato Institute equal time with climate scientists and includes this clincher: "Critics of Kyoto say signing onto it would erase 3 percent from our gross domestic product. That is over $350 billion a year." In a column on the topic, George F. Will exposed the underlying value choice: How could it be worth "the cost of slowing economic growth" to counteract global warming?

Money first, money always. It's what the preacher at my childhood Baptist church used to call worshipping Mammon. In pursuit of this value, a fundamentalist "science" outfit here in Portland, Ore., misleadingly called the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, promotes a phony list of some 17,000 scientists who disbelieve there really is any greenhouse-gas problem at all. Although some of the signers are fictitious and few are scientists at all — as exposed by Media Matters for America.com — the list got abundant airtime on the 700 Club. They're right in line with George W. Bush's campaign doubts on the matter. In February, Jerry Falwell explained the opposition: "There are multitudes of respected scientists who feel that this is a cyclical phenomenon and they point to the 1970s — only 30 years ago — when many scientists were also predicting global cooling."

George Will often resists the fundamentalist Christians of his Republican party. He mocks them in print, for instance, when their creationists try to suppress the teaching of science. Yet in his column on global warming, he follows Falwell's reasoning precisely: What scientists predicted in the 1970s didn't happen then; so what they're claiming now — global warming — won't happen either. Leading to his conclusion: Let's not disrupt business. Such logic is an example of treating science as a kind of rhetorical game — comparing statements and playing gotcha.

When I was a student at a California evangelical college a while ago, we learned to beware of selecting tidbits from the Bible's hundreds of pages in order to prove a foregone conclusion. We understood that such "proof-texting" was really a way of imposing one's prejudices on the texts.

Fundamentalists do science the same way. They oppose the teaching of evolution, for example, by proof-texting it. They snipe at selected details while ignoring the millions of data-points in confirmation. It's apparently how they think — that it's all right to bend a few pet facts into a defense of some untouchable point of belief.

On climate science, Will seems oddly content to think in the same shoddy way.

Oregon scientist George R. Miller was one of those 1970s climatologists whom events would prove wrong. In a recent letter to the Oregonian, Miller said he and others based their global-cooling forecasts on three long-term geophysical cycles: orbital eccentricity, axis tilt, and axis precession. The geological record shows these long-term cycles regularly triggering ice ages of relative mildness. But now, to quote Miller:

"The fact that Earth should be entering a cooling phase regarding the above cycles, especially precession, makes the subject of global warming even more scary: The Earth's atmosphere is warming when it should be cooling."

Ah. In a sense those scientists were not wrong: the Earth is exactly where they said it was in these cycles, and in the past this would have meant a long slow cool-down. But this trend is now countered by the unprecedented effects of atmosphere-altering civilization, verified in almost daily measures of arctic melting, sea-temperature and sea-level rises, and the like. But in Wills' view, the evidence of physical warming scarcely registers; he writes as if it were just a matter of documents to compare and juggle.

All toward the faith-based conclusion: Let us not disrupt business as usual. Let us continue making money. Let us have no other gods before that. For that is where some Republicans really worship.

Next question: Do we think the other party is doing that much better?

David Oates is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He lives in Portland, Oregon, and his latest book is City Limits: Walking Portland;s Boundary.

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