A lot of people were surprised when Republicans, including Sen. Jim Inhofe, voted in favor of an amendment explicitly stating that climate change is real and is not a hoax. They needn’t have been. Conservatives have been saying for years that climate change is real, even while insisting that it is a hoax, depending on who they’re talking to and how much they think they can get away with. And to those who think the Senate vote is a good sign: sorry, but that’s only partly true. It does show that people are (reluctantly) conceding the facts. But does this mean the Republicans are now willing to support measures designed to try and address the issue before it turns into a global catastrophe? Unfortunately no. It only means a slight shift in tactics.
To understand Republican strategy, we have to remember that their goal is first and foremost to prevent Congress from passing any laws that might impede or reduce the profits of wealthy mega-industries, particularly in the oil and gas business. Unless and until wealthy, non-science-friendly industrialists become convinced that global warming is a threat to their profits, they are unlikely to care about the consequences of global warming—which, after all, only devastates people who are too poor to matter.
In the meantime, all the Republicans have to do to cater to the rich is to keep Congress from actually doing anything about the problem. To achieve this, they have 5 tactics at their disposal.
Number one: deny that global warming is real. This is their first and favorite approach, and it’s one they’re going to continue to use as often as they think they can get away with it. Sure, they agree that global warming is real when it’s on the official record and they know the media is watching. Wait until they’re back in their home states, doing fund-raisers for a bunch of millionaires. They will say what their audience wants to hear, a denial of global warming.
Second is the good-old “nobody really knows” dodge. This is a good one to fall back on when you’re with the common people, especially when it’s people who can be counted on to agree with Barbie that “Math is haaard.” It feels good to be ignorant, and proud of it, and people will love you for being “one of us.” People don’t trust anyone they perceive as being smarter or better educated than themselves, so they’ll gladly lend their support to anyone whose intellect seems comparable or inferior to their own.
Number three is the one they used in the Senate: “Global warming is real, but it’s not our fault.” This is a delaying tactic, used to keep Congress tied up in arguing over whose fault it is instead of looking into ways we can try to remedy the situation. It doesn’t even matter who ultimately wins the debate, as long as it can be dragged out. The goal isn’t to be right, the goal is to prevent Congress from interfering in business profits. Endless debate is just as useful as outright denial in that respect.
Fourth is the less-common argument that we’ll hear more and more of as global warming gets worse: “Yes it’s real, and maybe it’s our own fault, but there’s nothing we can do about it.” The beauty of this approach is that even if you’re losing the debate on whether global warming is real/man-made, you can still keep Congress tied in knots by invoking the sheer size of the problem, and dismissing remedial efforts as a waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere. So far, this approach has only been hinted at in terms of scoffing at the idea of man being able to have a significant impact on the environment (!), but it will become more prominent as we start feeling the real pain of climate change.
Lastly, we have a tactic that hasn’t been seen much at all so far, but one that is sure to become the dominant position among conservatives: blaming global warming on liberals. Again, the goal is not to be right, the goal is to prevent Congress from interfering in business profits. Republicans and conservatives in general are going to make liberals and scientists the bad guys, and blame them for global warming, in hopes of once again tying up Congress in endless debates instead of taking positive action.
It might seem unlikely that this tactic could succeed, but this is precisely the kind of approach that has been used—successfully—by conservatives in the past. There will be all kinds of accusations, of course. They will blame liberals for the debates in Congress and elsewhere, and say that it’s the liberals’ fault for arguing instead of taking action. Or they’ll claim that nobody could have predicted that global warming was coming, and thus any mention of Republican obstructionism will be a witch hunt or some other form of persecuting conservatives. Any argument will do, no matter how counter-factual or preposterous, as long as it makes conservatives look like innocent victims and liberals look like villains and demons.
But of course, the biggest and most effective argument will be that global warming is the fault of liberals and scientists because they offended God by teaching evolution and letting gay people get married and allowing women to have the final say on what will or will not happen to their own bodies. It’s going to be the liberals’ fault that God’s wrath is falling on us, in the form of global warming, because liberals failed to heed the conservatives’ warnings and their exhortations to repent and turn back to the creationism, homophobia, and misogyny of our forefathers. National repentance is the only way to reverse the curse—and those damned liberals won’t let us give our nation to Jesus so we can receive his salvation. It’s all the liberals fault!
Will these tactics succeed well enough to make global warming inevitable? I don’t know. Looking back at history, though, there’s no doubt they’re going to try.