When it comes to the climate crisis, Republican leaders suddenly find themselves in an awkward spot.
If they reject climate science, they sound like kooks or charlatans. If GOP leaders say they believe climate science, they risk upsetting the party’s right-wing base and challenging the party’s anti-science orthodoxy.
The challenge, then, is finding a way to thread the needle – answering questions about climate change in such a way that that makes them come across as neither a fool nor someone overly interested with evidence.
This, apparently, is what the Republicans’ strategists and message gurus came up with.
John Boehner is qualified to lead Congress. But in his mind, he’s apparently not qualified to weigh in on climate change.“Listen, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change,” the House Speaker said at a press conference Thursday.
The Republican leader added that the White House’s upcoming environmental safeguards, which Boehner has not yet seen, would hurt the economy. “That can’t be the prescription for dealing with changes to our climate,” the Speaker said, unwilling and unable to offer a prescription of his own for dealing with changes to our climate.
If Boehner’s answer sounds familiar, it’s probably because Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) used eerily similar language this week, which in turn suggests a memo has made the rounds and we’ll be hearing the “I’m not qualified” palaver again soon.
That’s not good news. It’s a ridiculous posture.
Let’s get the obvious detail out of the way: Boehner’s rhetoric is disingenuous to a ridiculous degree, a fact which he’s no doubt aware of. For several years, the Ohio Republican has read from the climate deniers’ script, denying that carbon pollution is dangerous and dismissing the role of human activity in creating the environmental crisis.
Boehner, in other words, suddenly doesn’t feel “qualified” to talk about the merits of climate science, but for years, he had no similar qualms. How is it possible the Speaker became less “qualified” after learning more information? It’s not possible at all.
But even putting that aside, the more meaningful problem isn’t Boehner’s dishonesty; it’s the bogus argument itself.
The Speaker is a federal lawmaker, in a position of great influence and power. Like all members of Congress, he may not be an expert in every discipline or area of public policy, but Boehner has a staff, a base of personal knowledge, and access to a limitless wealth of information.
He’s required by the nature of his responsibilities to make judgment calls based on the best available evidence. And in this case, scientists here and around the world are speaking with one voice: climate change is real. Without action from policymakers like John Boehner, the crisis will intensify and the consequences will be severe.
One need not be a scientist to believe scientists. That may be politically inconvenient for the Speaker, but – and this is key – reality doesn’t care.
As we talked about the other day, “I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change” isn’t going to cut it. The debate is here; officials who give a darn about humanity are going to have to decide what to do about it.
The question for Boehner and other policymakers is simple: are you qualified to draw conclusions based on the guidance of experts? If the answer is “no,” perhaps a career in public service was a poor choice.
Either policymakers take evidence, reason, facts, and science seriously or they don’t. Your call, Mr. Speaker.