Science deniers, pro-oil and anti-fact: Meet the cabal of climate crisis deniers at the heart of the RNC

From President Trump down, the Republican National Convention this week is hosting a chorus of prominent voices who have espoused doubts and denials on the climate crisis

Louise Boyle
New York
Thursday 27 August 2020 12:59 BST
Donald Trump says he thinks climate change will 'change back'

As California wildfires rage, Hurricane Laura strengthens in the Gulf and heat records are broken from coast to coast, the Republican National Convention this week features a host of prominent voices who will be the first to tell you that the climate crisis is overblown.

A number of elected Republicans, along with Trumps and their loyalists, have repeatedly shared disinformation, cast doubt on the severity of the crisis, and lauded the fossil fuel industry which has been largely responsible for the crisis. This is despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary and the country's top defense and intelligence officials declaring it a threat to national security.

New polling released on Monday found that 68 per cent of Americans want the government to do more to tackle the issue, a figure that has remained stable since 2018, despite multiple other crises facing the country.

What's more, young Republicans feel strongly about the climate crisis, according to the conservative American Conservation Coalition. Some 77 per cent of right-leaning voters aged 18-35 considered the climate an important issue, with more than half saying it would impact their vote in November, the group found.

Arguably, no voice has had more impact on how some Americans view the climate crisis than that of Donald Trump.

Over the years, the President has called it a “hoax” and told the Washington Post that he is "not a big believer in man-made climate change". Mr Trump has blamed China for the climate crisis (then later said it was a "joke"), blasted California for the state’s devastating forest fires and pointed to snaps of freezing weather as evidence that global heating isn’t happening.

"In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming? [sic] Please come back fast, we need you!" he tweeted in January 2019. (A day later, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration appeared to respond with a tweet that read, "winter storms don't prove that global warming isn't happening" and a link to an explainer).

Throughout his presidency, Mr Trump has cosied up to the oil and gas industry. At the height of the pandemic in April, he tweeted: "We will never let the great U.S. Oil & Gas Industry down. I have instructed the Secretary of Energy and Secretary of the Treasury to formulate a plan which will make funds available so that these very important companies and jobs will be secured long into the future!"

In 2017, Trump said he believed the crisis was “manmade” but that there were unanswered questions “as to what extent and how serious and the magnitude of it”. (NASA reports that "97 per cent or more" of climate scientists agree the climate crisis has been caused by human activities).

It is unclear what impact his obfuscations, and those of other prominent political voices, have had on the public. However a Reuters/University of Oxford report this year found that a significant number of Americans (12%) dispute the severity of the climate crisis and may be “sceptical of the science”.

The president is not alone in minimising the threat. Outright climate denial, attacks on science and false equivalence are woven through years of public comments from Republican luminaries. (The Independent has contacted the representatives of the president and all below for any updates or clarifications to their prior, publicly made statements on the climate crisis. At the time of publication, we received no responses).

Mike Pence

Although the VP echoes his boss’s sentiments, his climate views appear to have been cemented decades ago.

The defunct website for his congressional run in 2001, includes an opinion piece, where Mr Pence wrote: "Global warming is a myth. The global warming treaty is a disaster. There, I said it."

Mr Pence's views don’t appear to have shifted far in the interim decades. During a 2014 MSNBC interview, Mr Pence was asked if he was “convinced that climate change is man-made".

He replied: “I don't know that that is a resolved issue in science today" before adding: “Just a few years ago, we were talking about global warming. We haven't seen a lot of warming lately. I remember back in the ‘70s we were talking about the coming ice age.” (A fringe theory in the 1970s, this was largely dismissed in the same decade, New Scientist reported).

And as vice-president, he repeatedly refused to call the climate crisis a threat, during a painful exchange on CNN last year.

At the 2019 annual meeting of the Oil and Gas Association, the Vice-President ticked off the Trump administration's achievements for the fossil fuel industry.

"We approved the Keystone and Dakota pipelines; withdrew the United States from the job-killing Paris Climate Accord; eliminated the hydraulic fracking rule; rolled back methane; we’re ending the Clean Power Plan; scrapped the Stream Protection Rule; and now, under President Donald Trump, the war on coal is over. American energy is booming," he said.

He added: "And the oil and gas industry, I want to promise you, has no greater friend than President Donald Trump."

Donald Trump Jr

Earlier this year, the president's oldest son shared a video titled "Climate Change Panic Is NOT Based On Facts" (it has been viewed 2.4million times on Facebook). He wrote: "CO2 Emissions have gone down for the first time in 30 years under my father. Some people just can't face the Facts."

Non-profit, fact-checking group, PolitiFact, wrote: "Reports show U.S. carbon dioxide emissions did spike on Trump’s watch in 2018. They fell again last year, but greenhouse gas emissions overall remain higher than they were before he took office."

Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State

Last year, the former CIA director told the Washington Times: "The climate's been changing a long time. There's always changes that take place."

During his remarks at the 11th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Finland in 2019, Sec. Pompeo appeared to celebrate the melting ice caps as great for business.

"Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade. This could potentially slash the time it takes to travel between Asia and the West by as much as 20 days," he said, according to CNN.

Ben Carson, Housing and Urban Development Secretary

"There’s always going to be either cooling or warming going on. As far as I’m concerned, that’s irrelevant. What is relevant is that we have an obligation and a responsibility to protect our environment,” retired neurosurgeon Dr Carson told Bloomberg during the 2016 election race.

He told Time in 2016 that he was very familiar with the "various arguments" on global warming.

"What I’ve said is it doesn’t matter about global warming or global cooling, at any point in time the earth is getting warmer or colder. That’s not the big factor. The big factor is we have a responsibility to take care of it. We have a responsibility to pass it on to the next generation in at least a good shape as we found it in. And our policies and our philosophies should be aimed towards that, not towards fighting each other," he continued.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky

The Republican leader, who is up for re-election in November, was evasive on the climate crisis in a 2014 interview with the Cinncinati Enquirer.

"I'm not interested in handicapping Kentucky's economy in pursuit of a crusade no one else is following," Mr McConnell said.

"If you felt that was a big problem, you would think everybody in the world would be interested in going down this path, but I don't see any evidence of it so far," he added.

He went on to say that the climate crisis could be debated forever, adding: "George Will had a column in the last year or so pointing out that in the 70s, we were concerned the ice age was coming. I'm not a scientist. I'm interested in protecting Kentucky's economy."

Senator Rand Paul, Kentucky

"I don't think we should be alarmist about this. I mean, the planet is 4.5 billion years old. We have gone through great extremes of climate change, natural and now we may have a man-made influence as well," he told CNN in 2017.

"But the question I always ask these alarmists is, how much is nature and how much is man? They act as if it's a given that man is the only source of climate change."

Representative Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee

"Of course you can be a believer in clean air and clean water and realize that when you work at global warming or climate change, as it is now popularly called, that it is cyclical and you have to look at it in terms of centuries, not in terms of decades. And the science around that is not a settled science," she said during a CNN interview in 2016.

Representative Lee Zeldin, New York

"It would be productive if we could get to what is real and what is not real...I'm not sold yet on the whole argument that we have as serious a problem as other people are," he told NewsDay in 2014.

Senator Joni Ernst, Iowa

During the 2014 Senate campaign, Senator Ernst said that she believes in protecting the environment (and that her family recycles and she drives a hybrid car), before stating: "So I don’t know the science behind climate change. I can’t say one way or another what is the direct impact, whether it’s man-made or not. I’ve heard arguments from both sides. I do believe in protecting our environment, but without the job killing regulations that are coming out of the EPA," Politico reported.

Senator Tom Cotton, Arkansas

Senator Cotton repeated a misleading statement to the Arkansas Times in 2014: "The simple fact is that for the last 16 years the earth’s temperature has not warmed. That’s the facts…Now, there’s no doubt that the temperature has risen over the past 150, 200 years. It’s most likely that human activity has contributed to some of that."

He went on to tell the newspaper that climate modelling was not to be trusted. "Why would we change the way we live our life on a fundamental, civilizational level based on computer models?” Senator Cotton said.

The senator went on to say that solutions to the climate crisis could be found in new coal power plants that produce less carbon emissions.

“We should be building more [coal plants]..." he said the Arkansas Times. "We should be building more nuclear facilities. We should be expanding exploration for oil and gas."

Charlie Kirk, founder of conservative group Turning Point USA

​During a Stanford College Republicans event in 2018, Mr Kirk said that the 99 per cent scientific consensus on the climate crisis did not convince him, the Stanford Daily reported.

“So what about the one percent? Science is not a democracy. We don’t vote on gravity. We don’t vote on Newton’s Second Law,” the right-wing firebrand said, according to the report.

He has also taken his arguments to Twitter, where he has 1.8million followers.

"Only a Democrat would try and make global warming a key issue of their campaign in the midst of a blizzard and 15 degree temperatures," he tweeted in February 2019.

And earlier this year: "Obama is trying to convince us climate change is going to destroy our coasts and consume our cities If he REALLY believed that why did he buy a $15 million home on the water in Martha’s Vineyard?"

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