Environmentalists Have Succeeded in Making Noise — Is Anybody Listening?

Efforts to make climate deniers pay a political price for their views may finally be getting somewhere.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 22: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) talks to reporters on Capitol Hill March 22, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Senate is scheduled to vote on amendments to the budget resolution on Friday afternoon and into the evening. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
National Journal
Lucia Graves
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Lucia Graves
May 19, 2014, 1:05 a.m.

For years, en­vir­on­ment­al­ists have been try­ing to make cli­mate-change deni­al a vul­ner­ab­il­ity for Re­pub­lic­ans.

In 2013 Or­gan­iz­ing for Ac­tion, the ad­vocacy arm push­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s agenda, tar­geted cli­mate den­iers in Con­gress. And the League of Con­ser­va­tion Voters spent mil­lions of dol­lars on an ad cam­paign to “hold cli­mate-change den­iers ac­count­able.”

Now, there’s some evid­ence it’s pay­ing off — spe­cific­ally, that along with oth­er de­fin­ing is­sues like gun-con­trol, gay mar­riage, and im­mig­ra­tion, the me­dia is in­creas­ingly ask­ing GOP can­did­ates about their views on cli­mate change.

At a Thursday night de­bate in South Dakota, for in­stance, Re­pub­lic­ans run­ning for the Sen­ate were asked to weigh in on cli­mate change. Earli­er this week, Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Flor­ida caused a tre­mend­ous stir when he an­nounced he doesn’t be­lieve hu­man activ­ity makes a ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion to the earth’s warm­ing cli­mate. (Ru­bio later told The Miami Her­ald‘s Marc Cap­uto, “I think all sci­ence de­serves skep­ti­cism.”)

Be­fore that, Demo­crat­ic Rep. Gary Peters, who is run­ning for the Sen­ate in Michigan, called on his Re­pub­lic­an rival Terri Lynn Land to state for the re­cord wheth­er she be­lieves the sci­ence be­hind man-made cli­mate change. He even an­nounced to The Wash­ing­ton Post‘s Greg Sar­gent that he in­tends to make cli­mate change a key is­sue in the race.

Oth­er GOP can­did­ates who have been ques­tioned lately on cli­mate in­clude Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Cory Gard­ner, who’s run­ning for a Col­or­ado Sen­ate seat, rising Iowa Sen­ate can­did­ate Joni Ernst, and all four Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates in the North Car­o­lina Sen­ate race. An ed­it­or­i­al pub­lished Tues­day in the Con­cord Mon­it­or called on Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hamp­shire to keep push­ing the GOP on cli­mate. And a Thursday ed­it­or­i­al in Ken­tucky’s The Cour­i­er-Journ­al cri­ti­cized Mitch Mc­Con­nell and Rand Paul’s cli­mate-change deni­al. 

The rise in cli­mate-deni­al men­tions in the me­dia is ob­serv­able in the past few months:

And in the past few years:

Cli­mate change, as Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s Ron­ald Brown­stein has ob­served, is one of sev­er­al is­sues that mat­ter to core Demo­crat­ic con­stitu­en­cies, in­clud­ing and maybe even es­pe­cially young voters. By em­bra­cing pri­or­it­ies that mat­ter to these groups, like cli­mate change, gun con­trol, and gay mar­riage, Demo­crats are hop­ing to ap­peal to what Brown­stein de­scribes as a “co­ali­tion of the as­cend­ant.”

Re­pub­lic­ans are fight­ing for that con­stitu­ency too, as evid­enced by a re­cent ad buy in which a mus­ta­chioed twentyso­mething or thirtyso­mething in tor­toise-shell glasses pro­claims he’s for an “all of the above” en­ergy strategy.

But wheth­er en­vir­on­ment­al groups can make Re­pub­lic­ans pay a polit­ic­al price for cli­mate deni­al re­mains to be seen. For in­stance, while North Car­o­lina state House Speak­er Thom Tillis and every oth­er Re­pub­lic­an run­ning for Sen­ate in North Car­o­lina was asked if they be­lieve cli­mate change is a proven fact, every single one of them answered no.

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