GOP lawmakers say this year’s harsh weather that has produced devastating wildfires and the most widespread drought in 50 years has not changed their minds on climate change.
Republican lawmakers say this year’s harsh weather that has produced devastating wildfires and the most widespread drought in 50 years has not changed their minds on climate change.
With more than a month left, the summer of 2012 is on pace to be one of the three hottest since 1950, according to an analysis by WeatherBank and AccuWeather. In June, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the preceding 12 months in the continental U.S. had been the warmest since record keeping began.
Many Republicans on Capitol Hill point out that weather is inherently cyclical.
“I think the science suggests you have to have long-term trends, not one-year droughts,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), noting his district saw worse conditions in the 1950s and 1980s and “variability in the drought is not unusual.”
“La Nina is going on,” he added, “and there’s plenty of suggestions there that that’s what’s impacting the weather.”
Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) also believes current conditions are part of normal volatility.
“We’ve got oppressive heat and we’ve broken some records, but there’s a lot of records standing that have been there for a long duration. These things cycle and we’ve been unseasonably wet and we’re cycling into a hot, dry period.”
Other GOP members questioned why environmentalists and others raise concerns about the planet warming during hot spells, but the opposite doesn’t occur during bouts of severe winter weather.
“Those same people don’t say that when we have cold weather, like if there’s a cold snap, so they’re not being consistent,” said Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), whose Colorado Springs-based district saw the most destructive wildfire in state history earlier this summer. “I don’t think we can say which direction the planet is going based on a few events one way or the other.”
In a floor speech last Monday, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said, “Look at the patterns. It gets cold, it gets warmer, it gets colder, gets warmer. God is still up there, and I think it’ll continue in the future.”
Inhofe’s remarks came after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) delivered a speech ripping the GOP senator’s stance on climate change as “dead and dangerously wrong.”
Inhofe recounted that in the 1970s, some scientists were afraid of another ice age on Earth: “Now, we’re all going to die, keep that in mind, whether it’s global warming or another ice age, we’re all going to die.”
While polls indicate that most people believe that the Earth is warming as a result of human activity, Republicans say they are not being pressed on the matter back home.
“I’ve heard a lot about the drought,” said Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.), “but I have not heard one thing connecting this to climate change.”
Political analysts note that voters are most worried about jobs and the economy. And Republicans have said efforts to enact a cap-and-trade mandate would spike the nation’s already high unemployment rate.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who crafted a controversial climate change bill that passed the House in 2009 but died in the Senate, says there are “absolutely” more Republicans who believe in climate change than the record suggests.
“On paper they’ve all voted against it. I don’t think that reflects all their real beliefs, but that’s their political position,” he said.
Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) agreed that there is more concern about climate change among Republican members than their public statements suggest.
“I think [GOP members] are really saying we need to see what’s happening and if there’s something we need to do, or whether we just need to say that this is a change in the weather and it’s going to shift back. So I think more [Republicans] are concerned about it,” she said.
However, she believes members will ultimately have to make up their own minds based on what they observe in their regions. For now, the party is more focused on the immediate ramifications of the hot summer rather than its cause.
“I don’t think we are standing up in the conference right now saying, ‘This is a problem.’ What we’re talking about is agriculture is a problem. First, we have to make sure if there’s anything we can do to solve that problem.”
According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, more than 60 percent of the lower 48 states is experiencing drought conditions, surpassed only by the worst years of the Dust Bowl.
Although scientists caution climate change can’t be blamed for individual events, this summer may be linked to a trend toward hotter, drier weather in much of the country. Public opinion has been affected by seasonal conditions. Last month, 70 percent of respondents to a University of Texas at Austin poll said they believed the climate was changing, up from 65 percent in March. The jump in belief was largest among people in the drought-hit South.