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Politics of warming part of culture wars

  • Former-Sen. Tim Wirth at the National Clean Energy Summit 2.0, in Las Vegas in 2009. Three decades after early warnings about global warming, the issue has become entrenched in the nation’s culture wars. ap file photo

  • FILE - In this June 1, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump speaks about the U.S. role in the Paris climate change accord in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Three decades after early warnings about global warming, the issue has become entrenched in the nation’s culture wars. Some in the GOP used to lead the fight against warming. Now most Republicans cannot speak the words “climate change.” Let alone support policies to address it. Many Democrats have moved sharply to the left on environmental issues as well. Climate change is as polarized as abortion. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File) Pablo Martinez Monsivais

  • FILE - In this June 22, 2010, file photo, Bob Inglis speaks to the media after his loss in the runoff election to Trey Gowdy in Greenville, S.C. Three decades after early warnings about global warming, the issue has become entrenched in the nation’s culture wars. Some in the GOP used to lead the fight against warming. Now most Republicans cannot speak the words “climate change.” Let alone support policies to address it. Many Democrats have moved sharply to the left on environmental issues as well. Climate change is as polarized as abortion. (AP Photo/ Richard Shiro) Richard Shiro

  • FILE - In this Oct. 25, 2017, file photo, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., pauses before speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. Three decades after early warnings about global warming, the issue has become entrenched in the nation’s culture wars. Some in the GOP used to lead the fight against warming. Now most Republicans cannot speak the words “climate change.” Let alone support policies to address it. Many Democrats have moved sharply to the left on environmental issues as well. Climate change is as polarized as abortion. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) J. Scott Applewhite



Associated Press
Wednesday, June 20, 2018

WASHINGTON — When it comes to global warming, America’s political climate may have changed more than the Earth’s over the past three decades.

NASA scientist James Hansen put the world on notice about global warming on June 23, 1988. Looking back, he says: “I was sufficiently idealistic that I thought we would have a sensible bipartisan approach to the problem.”

After all, Republicans and Democrats had worked together on an international agreement to fix the hole in the Earth’s ozone layer. Republicans would later represent eight of the 20 co-sponsors on the first major bills to fight climate change in 1980s and 1990s.

Yet 30 years after Hansen’s initial warning, the issue is as much at the core of the nation’s political divide as abortion, same-sex marriage and immigration.

Most Republican candidates today cannot speak the words “climate change” — let alone support policies to address it — without risking a fierce political backlash from their base, which increasingly believes that man-made climate change is a liberal fantasy. There’s virtually no space left for a climate change advocate in the Republican Party of 2018.

Just ask Bob Inglis.

The former South Carolina Republican lost his congressional primary in 2010 after speaking out about global warming following a trip to the Arctic. He has since dedicated his professional life to convincing conservatives that climate change must be taken seriously.

“We hit a low in the tea party,” Inglis said. “That turned out to be a false bottom because we went lower with the election of Donald Trump.”

President Trump, who once tweeted that climate change was a “Chinese hoax,” pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement — the only country to do so — and his cabinet has aggressively dismantled and dismissed government efforts to fight global warming.

“As the climate is getting worse, the politics is getting worse,” said Paul Higgins, public policy director of the American Meteorological Society.

It wasn’t always this way.

“A lot of Republicans were involved” in fighting climate change after Hansen testified, said former Democratic Sen. Tim Wirth of Colorado. In 1988, two months after Hansen’s warning, George H.W. Bush vowed to fight the greenhouse effect. Even 20 years later, Republicans adopted a party platform at the 2008 convention that openly addressed the threat of climate change.

At the same time, the party’s rhetoric also began to shift dramatically, adopting former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s “Drill baby drill” catch phrase. Its embrace of fossil fuels, and rejection of climate change as a serious threat, only intensified with the 2010 rise of the tea party.

It is “a core element of Republican identity to reject climate science,” said Jerry Taylor, who for more than two decades downplayed global warming as an energy and environment analyst for the libertarian Cato Institute. Taylor now actively tries to fight climate change as founder of the Niskanen Center, a moderate think-tank with libertarian principles.

It’s not just politicians.

The 12 states with the highest per person emissions of the main heat-trapping gas, carbon dioxide, voted for Trump in 2016. The 10 states with the lowest per person carbon emissions voted for Hillary Clinton.

Polling suggests that global warming is now even more polarizing than abortion, said pollster and Yale Center for Climate Communication Director Anthony Leiserowitz.

Nearly 7 in 10 Republicans — or 69 percent — think the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated, Gallup found in March. Among Democrats, just 4 percent — not even 1 out of 10 — believe the issue is exaggerated.