Republican Climate Change Denial Is The Real Hoax

Jim Bridenstine’s sudden agreement with the scientific consensus on climate change hints that the GOP isn’t as skeptical about the science when it suits them

Visualization from the JPL/MIT ECCO2 climatology project (NASA)

Visualization from the JPL/MIT ECCO2 climatology project (NASA)

When Trump announced noted climate change denier Jim Bridenstine as the future head of NASA, it seemed like one more borderline sarcastic pick to lead an important government agency. By then we already had an FCC commissioner who doesn’t believe in regulation of telecom companies, a Secretary of Education who despised public schools, and an EPA head who used to constantly sue the agency. So sure, why not have someone who doesn’t believe in science in charge of NASA possibly tasking it to study climate change on Mars to support a long discredited denialist talking point? But something strange happened after his confirmation.

Speaking at a NASA town hall, Bridenstine said that humans were very much responsible for global warming and he’s fully behind the scientific consensus, adding “we are putting [carbon dioxide] into the atmosphere in volumes we haven’t seen before.” That’s a pretty stark departure from his stance that global warming was caused by the sun and oceanic cycles. Likewise, the GOP-controlled Congress reversed Trump’s decision to cancel NASA’s climate change observing missions, nixing only one relatively small experiment. And this prompts the obvious question of why we’re seeing such an about-face on climate science where it really counts.

One theory that may explain why climatology is still on NASA’s agenda is that the agency’s findings wouldn’t have any regulatory impact on their own. They’re just that, findings that will be detailed in scientific papers and used for further research. Only the EPA and the DOE could make the call to codify and enforce policy around this data. As long as that’s not happening under Energy Secretary Rick Perry (who famously said that fossil fuels could prevent rape in developing countries and should be subsidized even if they’re unprofitable) and EPA Director Scott Pruitt (who loves being wined and dined by fossil fuel lobbyists), the GOP is perfectly fine with letting scientists do their work in relative peace and with adequate funding.

Meanwhile, the base is told that climate change is a socialist conspiracy to take their property and make foreign countries richer at America’s expense — even though its effects cost trillions of dollars in lost productivity for China and India — so they don’t suddenly start supporting the kinds of regulations that could cost big donors. Of course, this would mean that the Republican stance on climate change is deeply cynical and many don’t really believe their own talking points on the subject. They’re just using it as another wedge culture war issue to get themselves elected and protecting donors’ profits to fund their campaigns by keeping the scientists off their backs long enough for said donors to make a profitable, slow, transition to green energy if and when they choose to do so.

Given that context, one wonders how much of a denier Bridenstine really was. Did he just play the part and ride the anti-science conspiracy theory train for cheap political points and now, at NASA he can finally drop the act? Did his thinking on the subject change over time? Will he start trying to help shut down any research that could prompt new legislation which hits fossil fuel companies in the wallet behind the scenes while paying lip service to it? Either way, his reversal on the subject and his colleagues’ actions seem to show a pattern of cynicism and duplicity and we can only guess whether they’re ready to get on board with science but are trapped by the conspiracy-driven right-wing media machine, or there’s something more happening in their ranks behind closed doors.

Politech // Climate Change / NASA / Politics / Republican Party