Why Republicans Continue to Deny Climate Science

Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail are digging themselves into quite a hole. Climate change is both a critical issue for our world's security and sustainability, and a key political issue that could help decide who wins the White House in 2016. And yet Republicans continue to deny climate science, dismiss the urgency of action, or exaggerate the costs of the President's plans to address it.

Just look at the U.S. Senate, where Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently chose to waste two days on a useless effort to block President Obama's Clean Power Plan -- the first-ever carbon pollution standards for power plants. He did this despite knowing that the President would veto any such attempt, giving it zero chance of becoming law. So what was the point? Apparently, Senate Republicans hoped to undermine the credibility of the President's climate commitments ahead of the Paris conference.

While I'm sure the international community will be shocked (shocked!) to learn that the Republican Party in America remains hostile to climate action, they'll also plainly see that there are more than enough votes in Congress to sustain the President's veto -- giving the U.S. all the credibility needed to strike a major agreement in Paris. At the end of the day, all the Senate Republicans accomplished through this charade was to satisfy their fossil-fuel funders and rile up their Tea Party base.

On the campaign trail, all of the leading Republican presidential candidates continue to deny or downplay the reality of climate change. Donald Trump recently said, "I don't believe in climate change." Ben Carson has used the Republicans' new favorite trope that the climate is always changing, while discounting human contributions. "[T]here is no overwhelming science that the things that are going on are man-caused and not naturally caused," he said. Senator Ted Cruz came up with the conspiracy theory that government researchers are "cooking the books" to propagate a false conclusion on climate change, adding that, "Enron used to do their books the same way."

Well, Senator Cruz might be sincere in his belief that climate change is just one big government conspiracy, cooked up by those devious scientists at NASA who we've trusted to send men to the moon and navigate a satellite to Pluto, but he and his Republican colleagues are going to have a real problem peddling that theory to a general electorate next fall.

The American people overwhelmingly understand that climate change is real, that humans are at least partly to blame, and that the government should take action to address it. A Stanford University study released earlier this year and reported by the New York Times found that "83 percent of Americans, including 61 percent of Republicans and 86 percent of independents, say that if nothing is done to reduce emissions, global warming will be a very or somewhat serious problem in the future."

So why do Republicans continue to deny or downplay climate science? I see two reasons. First: the Tea Party. While a majority of Republicans do accept climate change, a Yale University survey found that only 29 percent of Tea Party Republicans believe it is happening. And while the Tea Party represents only a portion of Republican voters, it is a vocal minority that holds outsized sway in early nominating states like Iowa.

The second reason: money. Dark money to be specific. Millions upon millions of secret spending by the fossil fuel industry that was unleashed by the disastrous 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision. This money not only fuels the campaigns of many candidates; it also represents a threat to those who don't toe the polluter line on climate change. One polluter front group warned that anyone who crossed them would be "at a severe disadvantage," and that addressing carbon pollution would be a "political loser." From a group backed by billionaires now threatening to wield $750 million in this election alone, that's not very subtle.

All of this is building up to one thing: a reckoning on climate change for Republicans in 2016. Climate change may not be the most important issue to every American, but strong majorities do consider it a major problem, and they aren't likely to take seriously a candidate who denies the science and who is plainly in the pocket of the polluters.

In the meantime, I'm confident we'll reach a meaningful agreement on global carbon reductions in Paris, and the Clean Power Plan will move forward here in America. Progress will continue, with or without Republican cooperation. And perhaps, in the aftermath of their electoral reckoning in 2016, Republicans might finally break free from their Tea Party and fossil-fuel handlers, and begin working with Democrats to limit the damage from climate change. I've introduced a bill to establish a deficit-neutral carbon fee that could reduce emissions by nearly 50 percent by 2030 while generating trillions of dollars in revenue to reduce corporate tax rates and provide rebates to American families. It's a conservative, market-friendly approach to climate change if there ever was one, and I stand ready to work with any Republican willing to get serious on this issue.

This post is part of a "Dangers of Denial" series produced by The Huffington Post, in conjunction with the U.N.'s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris (Nov. 30-Dec. 11), aka the climate-change conference. The series will put a spotlight on politicians and their supporters who actively deny the existence of or greatly downplay the gravity of climate change. To view the entire series, visit here.