The Republican party is the political arm of the fossil fuel industry
Kate AronoffWed 27 Mar 2019 14.48 GMT
Republicans are doing everything in their power to kneecap the country’s ability to respond to climate change
For Republicans, the climate crisis is a joke. On Tuesday in the Senate, Mike Lee, a Republican senator for Utah, spent several minutes on the floor showing pictures of Luke Skywalker on Hoth, giant seahorses and Ronald Reagan shooting off a machine gun whilst mounted atop a dinosaur. This was his bid to “treat the Green New Deal”, which came up for a vote in that body on Tuesday, “with the seriousness it deserves”.
For a growing stretch of the country, climate change isn’t a joke but a deadly, imminent threat. Biblical flooding in the midwest this past month has left farmlands devastated and at least 20 people dead, all while the country lacks a comprehensive plan to handle such disasters. The Pine Ridge Reservation is experiencing a devastating state of emergency thanks in part to decades of federal neglect of and divestment from indigenous communities. And there are still people struggling to recover in Puerto Rico from 2017’s devastating hurricane season – efforts being actively undermined by a sociopathic indifference to the fate of that island’s residents. Rising temperatures are already a clear and present danger to millions of Americans, and disastrous Republican policy is already making it worse.
By contrast, scientists are unflinching in their recommendations for dealing with the problem: “rapid and far-reaching transitions” in “all aspects of society”, per the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
From the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s sham vote on Tuesday on a Green New Deal to attempts dismantle the remaining benefits of the Affordable Care Act to Rick Perry’s push to bail out flailing coal plants, Republicans are instead doing everything in their power both to make sure temperatures keep rising and to kneecap the country’s ability to respond adequately to the results.
The Republican party, of course, voted unanimously against the Green New Deal in Tuesday’s vote; 43 Democrats voted present to show unity. But like many of their Republican colleagues – and a few Democrats who joined Republicans in their no vote – neither Lee nor McConnell speak or vote for themselves. With mountains of campaign donations, they are deputised to act on behalf of the coal, oil and gas companies who fund their re-election campaigns; combined, the two senators have accepted more than $6m from fossil fuel interests over the course of their careers. In the 2017-2018 election cycle, more than four-fifths of the energy sector’s $8.5m in donations went to Republican candidates. An analysis released on Tuesday from Oil Change International found that – in total – the senators who voted against the resolution yesterday have accepted a total of $55m in donations from fossil fuel interests
With the Green New Deal enjoying 81% support among the American voting public, Senate Republicans’ “no” vote on Tuesday mostly proved how out of touch they are with their nominal constituents. For Democrats, it should also be clarifying. If they ever were, today’s Republican party simply isn’t negotiating in good faith – least of all when it comes to climate change. It’s negotiating on behalf of the world’s most toxic companies, and it’s time for Democrats to start treating Republicans like what they are: the political arm of the fossil fuel industry.
That’s important because not all of the jabs thrown at the Green New Deal will be as cartoonish as Mike Lee’s or even Mitch McConnell’s. Republicans like Lamar Alexander have already begun to turn their backs on years of old-school Republican climate denial, trading in junk science and conspiracy theories for more seemingly respectable solutions.
On Tuesday, Alexander announced his own plan to tackle “Ten Grand Challenges” to curb emissions under the banner of a New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy. Alexander hasn’t magically seen the light on climate, and still takes plenty of cash from the fossil fuel industry fueling this problem. He’s just taking a different page out of their playbook. As the Influence Map found recently, multinational fossil fuel companies have spent $1bn since the Paris climate agreement was signed in 2015 trying to greenwash their image through elaborate PR campaigns that paint them as allies in the climate fight. It’s nonsense, of course; the same report found that while these companies plan to spend $115bn on new fossil fuel development in the coming years, they’ll spend just a tiny fraction of that – $3.6bn – on low-carbon investments.
Climate change is no joke, as Mike Lee suggests. But the idea that a Republican party stacked to the gills with fossil fuel cash will ever take it seriously certainly is.