Will Hurricane Irma Blow Away GOP Climate Denialism?

Just days prior to Hurricane Irma’s expected assault on Florida, the Washington Post reported:

Concern centered particularly on the Florida Keys, a chain of islands at the southern tip of the state that is a tourist hot spot and home to more than 80,000 residents. It is in the direct path of the storm as currently forecast, leading local officials there to announce that the area would be under mandatory evacuation orders beginning Wednesday.

Fear also spread north into Miami-Dade, the state’s most populous county with 2.7 million residents. Though the storm’s exact trajectory was still unknown, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez urged residents to stock up on food and water and warned that evacuation orders could follow in some areas. The county already planned to start evacuating those with special needs on Wednesday.

“This hurricane is far too powerful, poses far too great a threat, for us to delay actions any further,” Gimenez said at a news briefing Tuesday afternoon.

In fact, these hurricanes, these floods, these fires, these extreme weather events are all, collectively, far too powerful and pose far too great a threat for this country to delay actions to reduce carbon pollution any further. Irma proves that any opponent of strong efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is, for all intents and purposes, an enemy of humanity.

Not every House Republican is protected by gerrymandering. There are quite a few Republicans in the House who know damn well that the American public’s tolerance for the sleazy lies of climate deniers is declining. On a state level, Republicans know they can’t get away with denial anymore: five years ago, the idea of Republican state legislators in California embracing cap-and-trade, or a Republican governor in Maryland banning fracking, would have been considered unthinkable, even laughable. Now, it’s reality.

Yes, Trump will continue to reject the science. Yes, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt will continue to sabotage and scorn efforts to protect this planet from pollution. Plenty of Republicans will remain as sociopathic on climate as ever. However, not every Republican can afford to.

Vulnerable Republicans will need an out in the aftermath of Harvey and Irma. These Republicans know Americans are smartening up on climate. These Republicans know that they will be voted out if they spew Koch talking points. These Republicans know they must act.

Nearly a decade ago, before he abandoned concerns about the climate crisis out of anti-Obama spite, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) posed a question most Republicans cannot honestly answer:

Suppose that I am wrong [on the accuracy of climate science, and] move forward with these green technologies; [then] all we’ve done is given our young people a cleaner planet. But suppose we are right [on the accuracy of climate science] and do nothing, then what kind of a planet are we going to hand these young people?

One year ago today, Hillary Clinton accurately described Trump’s most fervent supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” Now, the rising waters from Harvey and Irma are surrounding that basket. These climate-fueled catastrophes constitute a moment of truth for a party that has peddled lies about climate change since the late-1980s. Denialism is not politically sustainable–not with the cost in money and lives from these storms. In the name of political survival, more Republicans on a local, state and federal level will have to distance themselves from denial and concede the need to reduce emissions. They may do so kicking and screaming, but for those of us concerned about the health and safety of future generations, such actions would be preferable to right-wing lying and scheming.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.