GOP Climate Change Deniers Plan Their Retreat

Climate change deniers in the Republican Party have started their retreat, fading into the woodwork like instigators afraid of being caught up for their roles in the mob. "Nearly a dozen Republican members of Congress will break ranks with leaders of their party on Thursday, and call for action against climate change," reports The Guardian. Included in the ten, Florida GOP members of Congress, Ileana Ros Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo.

The state is important because it is within Florida, the third most populous and arguably the most important to national elections, that climate change denialism has gripped most fiercely through a Republican majority that self-tighens on the screw of illegal, gerrymandered districting. So safe and secure are GOP opponents of global warming that in the last session of the Florida legislature, the majority blocked consumer and commercial adoption of solar energy. This, in the "Sunshine State" whose current governor, Rick Scott, also prohibited staffers and agency officials from speaking the words, "climate change".

Of the two Florida representatives willing to climb over the Berlin Wall of Climate Change Denialism, Ileana Ros Lehtinen is the more interesting.

First-term Congressman Curbelo never embraced his party's refusal to acknowledge climate change as a man-made event. The district he represents does include the Florida Keys, nearly as vulnerable as coastal Bangladesh to rising seas. Ros Lehtinen is another matter. Key Biscayne and coastal Miami, within her district, are only inches higher than Key West. For a career spanning decades, Iliana Ros Lehtinen has been silent like her colleagues and contemporaries: US Senator and presidential aspirant Marco Rubio and former Florida governor Jeb Bush -- both from Miami-Dade.

The GOP shift on climate change is inevitable. Facts on the ground are impossible to ignore. If historic forest fires, the 500-year drought in California and the southwest aren't enough to budge the GOP Congress, the rapidly melting Arctic and incursions by Russia and China toward the Northwest Passage registered inside Republican circles anxious to protect the business interests of campaign funders.

Republicans like Rubio and Bush may not be scientists, but they certainly know that investing tax dollars to block our enemies from oil that should profit American business requires at the very minimum, an Exxon brand of climate change adaptation.

The clearest indication that the GOP climate change deniers are slinking away is the recent silence from U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Chairman of the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee; the part of the legislative branch of the US government that has blocked every action by Democrats to protect Americans from climate change impacts.

There have been no similar performances to Inhofe's appearance on the Senate floor with a snowball to taunt Democrats.

"Climate is changing and climate has always changed and always will," Inhofe said earlier this year to the Senate. "The hoax is that there are some people who are so arrogant to think they are so powerful they can change climate. Man can't change climate."

As the presidential primary season heated up this summer and, now, early fall the Republican standard bearer on climate change denial has been quiet as the hurricane season.

There is one additional reason -- besides economic advantages coming clear in the Arctic north and the hottest temperatures on record -- that the GOP Congressional leaders are changing out of climate change-denialist work-clothes to mix in with the crowd: Pope Francis.

Last spring I wrote, "The GOP's Ten Commandments of Climate Change", as if to conjure what Congressional Republicans in the back pocket of the fossil fuel industries must be telling each other.

1) Climate change is like the weather: there is nothing we can do about it.
2) We are top predator. Others must adapt to us or die.
3) It doesn't matter if climate change is man-made: whatever happens is God's will.
4) Since our God in the only God, we know what is best for you.
5) As the party of limited government, any effort to strengthen environmental regulations is cutting our own throats.
6) As the party of capitalism, we are against any climate-driven protectionism unless it serves our interests.
7) If climate change requires subsidies, existing subsidies will be protected, first. Any additional subsidies will have to adapt to ours.
8) Dissenters on climate change within the party are psychological deviants, to be dealt with and isolated from decision-making.
9) If there is a dispute on climate change between constituencies the GOP represents, the leadership will side with that person who concentrates our political power.
10) We will adapt our behavior to impacts of climate change as they happen, not before.

In a 2012 address given to a Voice of Christian Youth America radio program, Inhofe said, "[M]y point is, God's still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous."

Next week, Pope Francis arrives in the United States on his first papal visit and will address the United Nations General Assembly. A Yale University publication, e360, asked leading thinkers on faith and the environment what they would like to hear the Pope say.

Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and associate professor of political science at Texas Tech University and director of the Climate Science Center, said:

"The pope gets what we scientists have known for a long time: Science doesn't hold all the answers. Not for life, and certainly not for such a difficult and polarized issue as climate change.

There is a lot science can tell us. It can tell us that climate is changing; that -- for the first time in the history of this planet -- humans are responsible; and that our choices matter. The more carbon we produce today, the greater the risks and even the dangers we will face tomorrow.

But science can't tell us what to do; that's where our values come in. And for more than 80 percent of Americans, at least some of their values come from their faith. That's why it's so important that the pope gets it.

The pope is crystal clear on the connection between Christian values and climate change. He's laid out in detail the relationship between God, people, and the planet. He's connected the dots between poverty, vulnerability, and climate impacts. He's left nothing to the imagination when describing the challenge we face today, and the attitudes we'll need to conquer this challenge in the future.

There's just one thing he hasn't said -- yet. He hasn't called out those who are using God's name as a cover for greedy, short-term thinking, for actions and attitudes that reflect love of self more than love of others.

Will he do it? I don't know. But I do know this: He's the right person to make that call."

This week, Faith in Public Life -- a charitable organization partnered with the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America -- issued the results of a recent public opinion poll of Catholic U.S. voters and their attitudes to Pope Francis on his most prominent recent statements.

Pope Francis has enjoyed high levels of approval among U.S. Catholics since his election, and our study confirms this trend. Eighty-three percent of Catholic likely voters had a favorable opinion of Pope Francis, compared to 11% unfavorable. Similarly, when asked whether they think Francis is moving the Catholic Church in the right direction or on the wrong track, Catholic likely voters supported the pope's leadership, by a margin of 82% to 18%.

These strong approval numbers are paired with high levels of awareness of the pope's activities. Nearly 2 in 3 claimed to follow news about Francis either very or somewhat closely, while over 60% were aware (before our survey) that the pope is planning to visit the United States. Finally, nearly 3 out of 4 had heard at least a little about the pope's landmark encyclical on ecology and environmental justice, Laudato Si. Over 50% had heard either some or a lot about the encyclical.

Among Catholic voters in ten likely 2016 battleground states (FL, OH, VA, PA, CO, IA, WI, MI, NH, NV), these levels of awareness were even higher. Seventy percent claimed to follow news about Francis at least somewhat closely, while over three quarters were aware of Francis' upcoming U.S. visit before our survey. Sixty-four percent of these Catholics heard either some or a lot about Laudato Si.

Our data show general bipartisan awareness of Pope Francis' leadership. Sixty-seven percent of GOP Catholic voters and 68% of Democratic Catholic voters followed news about Francis at least somewhat closely. Seventy percent of GOP Catholic voters and 68% of Democratic Catholic voters were aware of the papal visit to the U.S. before our survey. There was a modest partisan gap in awareness of Laudato Si, with 63% of GOP Catholic voters hearing some or more, compared to 55% of Democratic Catholic voters.

However, significant partisan differences emerged in approval of Francis' leadership. Only 28% of GOP Catholic voters had a very favorable overall opinion of Francis, compared to 53% among Democratic Catholic voters and 45% among Catholic Independent voters. Twenty percent of Catholic Republican voters said they have an overall unfavorable opinion of the pope, compared to only 3% among Democratic Catholic voters. While in a separate question, on the whole, GOP Catholics thought the pope is leading the Church on the right track, by a 70-30% margin, this is significantly less than the 92-8% margin for Democratic Catholic voters.

Sifting through these numbers, what is most important is that Pope Francis enjoys virtually complete support among the Catholic segment of the key swing vote: Latinos. "Latino Catholics were among the most enthusiastic demographics in our national sample in their support of Pope Francis. Eighty- four percent had a favorable opinion of the first pope from South America, compared to 75% among white, non-Latino Catholics. Ninety percent of Latino Catholics agreed that Pope Francis is leading the Catholic Church in the right direction."

These numbers put a Republican and Catholic leader like U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and his fellow presidential aspirant Jeb Bush on a collision course with electoral reality. Where Senator Rubio has refused to even meet with climate change scientists, Jeb's response to Pope Francis' Laudato Si, the most forceful environmental statement ever by the Catholic Church, was petulant along the lines, the Pope should stay to religion and leave matters of the economy and science to us.

So it is, the "values" party -- the GOP -- must come to terms with the fact that its values are not in line with the majority of U.S. voters, Catholic or otherwise religious. The pivoting in the GOP away from the climate change denialism is going to acquire momentum as November 2016 approaches.

The only question is whether Americans at the polls will finally revolt against Republicans whose rationalizations have done so much damage to our children's generations and prospects for a safe, secure future. They said it was all about "jobs, jobs, jobs" until it just got too hot and they melted away.

(For more views like this: and the daily blog I co-write under the pen name, gimleteye, at Eye On Miami.)