Opinion: Wacky weather shifting voters away from GOP's climate stance
April 24, 2012
As extreme weather hurts more local communities and economies, voters may find it tough to back candidates who ignore, and even deny, their plight.
By Glenn Scherer
Blue Ridge Press
Global warming could prove fatal to the GOP this November – or in the near future. Why? A large majority of Americans now say unequivocally that global warming intensified the drought, deluge and scorching heat afflicting mostly Republican-leaning states the past two years, according to a new study.
Meanwhile, Republican congressional hopefuls and Mitt Romney have hitched their election bids to climate change skepticism, siding with Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, who calls global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”
But research by Yale and George Mason universities suggests Americans are now seeing that the hoax may all be on the climate change denier side. By a 2-to-1 margin, they say that U.S. weather – including heat waves, droughts and severe rainstorms – has been getting worse, rather than better, in recent years.
More importantly, Americans say extreme weather is adding to local hardships: crop failures, hail damage, poor air quality, forest fires.
This year's weather could further erode voter patience with the Grand Ole Party. In March, the nation shattered more than 15,000 heat records. If these trends continue, summer heat waves and drought emergencies could have Republican candidates sweating out their electoral bids as they try to defend their belligerent climate change denial records.
Especially susceptible: Their argument that global warming will cost more to fix long term than the economic damage it is already inflicting. American commerce and communities were slammed with record economic losses due to weather disasters last year – including tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo., and Tuscaloosa, Ala.; the decimated Texas cattle herds; millions of acres of drowned farmland along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers; and the heat-scorched Southern peanut crop.
Not every disaster is linked to climate change, but scientists say the energy imbalance created by humanity's increasing emissions makes extreme events more likely. The U.S. endured a jaw-dropping 14 major weather disasters in 2011, each costing $1 billion or more in damages, totaling $53 billion. Extreme weather is now increasing prices on everything from beef to cotton clothing to peanut butter. The on-the-ground impacts of climate change are becoming hard for voters to ignore.
If the global warming public opinion pendulum swings decisively against Republicans in this election – or at the midterms or in 2016 – it leaves the GOP with little maneuverability. With purse strings tightly tied to big oil, coal, and natural gas interests, the Republican party cannot change its position on climate change without taking a huge hit to campaign coffers.
Strangely, the more climate change evidence has become irrefutable, the more Republican politicians have entrenched against it, and the shriller their position has become.
With 97 percent of all scientists now saying that global warming is happening and human-caused, according to the National Academy of Sciences, and with the weather proving out that assertion, red-state Republicans face a long, hot summer.
They're heading home to campaign for constituents whose lives are being made miserable – and whose economic fortunes are being ruined – by scorching temperatures, drought, deluge, and tornadoes.
©Blue Ridge Press, 2012.
Photo of tornado damage in Texas in April, 2012 courtesy State Farm Insurance/flickr.
Blue Ridge Press senior editor Glenn Scherer lives in Vermont. Blue Ridge Press has been providing environmental commentary and news to U.S. newspapers since 2007.
DailyClimate.org is a foundation-funded news service covering climate change. Views expressed are those of the author and not DailyClimate.org. Contact editor Douglas Fischer at dfischer [at] dailyclimate.org
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