Chris Mooney's blog

Criticism Intensifies of New Mexico’s Climate Denying Energy Secretary, Harrison Schmitt

harrison schmitt, astronaut

Harrison Schmitt has had an impressive and storied career: Apollo astronaut and moonwalker, U.S. Senator,  Ph.D. geologist. Since his recent appointment to head the New Mexico Department of Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources, however, much attention is being focused on Schmitt’s highly unconventional views about climate change.

It’s not just that Republican Governor Susana Martinez’s new pick for the state’s top energy and environment role is a climate denier. It’s the highly politicized nature of his views and past statements–and just how wrong he is about technical matters in climate science–that’s particular stunning.

The Mystery of Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich is a very smart, very intellectual kind of guy. Not only does he hold a Ph.D., but he professes to love science. In May 2002, after leaving Congress, he could be found calling for a tripling of the budget of the National Science Foundation. 

Just look at this 2008 Slate exchange, discussing Gingrich’s plans to use market mechanisms to address global warming:

Kensington, Md.: Kudos to you for this new initiative, and we all need for you to be successful (speaking as a liberal here). But why do you suppose conservatives have been so virulently hostile to science these past few decades? It’s really like watching the 16th century papacy coming to terms with astronomy.

Newt Gingrich: Since I headed the Republican House which doubled the size of the NIH budget, served on the Hart-Rudman Comission, which said the decline of math and science education was our second greatest threat as a country, and helped save the international space station when short-sighted people wanted to kill it, I’m not sure I identify with your question.

I  identify with it. While Gingrich and his revolutionaries were running the congressional show in the 1990s, they dismantled their own scientific advisory office, the Office of Technology Assessment. Then they held show hearings to cast doubt on the science of climate and the science of ozone depletion.

They loved science–except when they didn’t.

Now Gingrich is back again, as a possible GOP presidential candidate. And he is calling for nothing less than dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency.

Evolution and Climate Science: Fellow Travelers in U.S. Public Schools

Thanks to Joe Romm, I just became aware of the latest effort to undermine evolution education in the U.S.—and to denigrate climate science education as well. It’s a new bill in Oklahoma, but it fits a pattern that anti-science forces have already employed successfully in Louisiana and Texas. As the National Center for Science Education explains of the new Oklahoma bill:

Entitled the “Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act,” SB 320 would, if enacted, require state and local educational authorities to “assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies” and permit teachers to “help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.” The only topics specifically mentioned as controversial are “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

What are the existing scientific theories pertinent to human cloning that need to be understood, analyzed, critiqued, and reviewed? Are the people who write these things even remotely clued in to the issues involved?

But I digress.

The big point here is that increasingly, evolution and climate change are being tied together in attacks on science education.

Can You Have a Purely Economic Sputnik?

Last night, the president gave a speech that never directly mentioned the most pressing science-based issue of our time—global warming, climate change. I don’t like being so right in my prediction: Even I thought he’d say it once or twice at least.

At the same time, however, he announced a new national love affair with science, innovation, and clean energy, using a playbook that seems right out of the National Academy of Sciences’ now famous 2005 Rising Above the Gathering Storm report. And he capped it all off with a line of almost mythic potential: “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.”

Could it really be? And can this approach—save the climate, the country, the economy, and pretty much everything through technological innovation—deliver on its own?

Will the State of the Union Address the State of the Planet?

It’s freezing out in the northeast—and to hear some pundits and strategists tell it, global warming may be largely frozen out of President Obama’s pending State of the Union address.

In other words, if waiting for the president to say “climate change” is your drinking game strategy for tomorrow night, you may wind up painfully sober by the end of the speech.

As Joe Romm notes, even those pre-speech analysts who do intimately understand the climate issue (and most do not) want the president to talk about energy innovation, not how much of a risk we’re running from ongoing warming. And at a time when the unswerving focus is the economy and jobs, and the president has just named the CEO of a clean energy company, General Electric, to head his new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, you have to figure they’re on to something.

After all, even in the last State of the Union Obama only mentioned climate change twice. And he only did so to quickly reframe it as a clean energy issue:

Is Climate Denial Corporate Driven, or Ideological?

UPDATE: After posting this, I realized that the idea that climate denial is ideological, rather than corporate driven, is also the explicit and central argument of Oreskes and Conway, Merchants of Doubt. There was no intention to slight them–it’s just that I’d read Dunlap and McCright more recently, so their work was at the front of my mind. I’ve added a reference below, and my apologies to Oreskes and Conway.

Recently, I’ve been reading some research by Riley Dunlap, a sociologist at Oklahoma State University who collaborates frequently with Aaron McCright, another sociologist at Michigan State. Together, they’ve done penetrating work on the right wing resistance to climate change science in the US, and in particular, on the role of conservative think tanks in driving this resistance.

In a series of 2010 papers, however, I’m detecting a theme that runs contrary to what many often assume about the driving forces of climate denial. It is this: McCright & Dunlap argue that while corporate interests may once have seemed front-and-center in spurring resistance to climate science, at this point it’s becoming increasingly apparent that ideological motivations are actually the primary motivator. Or as they put it: “conservative movement opposition to climate science and policy has a firm ideological base that supersedes the obvious desire for corporate funding.”


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