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
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
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.

What We're Following See More »
Republican Polling Shows Close Race
Roundup: National Polling Remains Inconsistent
8 hours ago

The national polls, once again, tell very different stories: Clinton leads by just one point in the IBD, Rasmussen, and LA Times tracking polls, while she shows a commanding 12 point lead in the ABC news poll and a smaller but sizable five point lead in the CNN poll. The Republican Remington Research Group released a slew of polls showing Trump up in Ohio, Nevada, and North Carolina, a tie in Florida, and Clinton leads in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Virginia. However, an independent Siena poll shows Clinton up 7 in North Carolina, while a Monmouth poll shows Trump up one in Arizona

Colin Powell to Vote for Clinton
11 hours ago
Clinton Reaching Out to GOP Senators
16 hours ago

If you need a marker for how confident Hillary Clinton is at this point of the race, here's one: CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports "she's been talking to Republican senators, old allies and new, saying that she is willing to work with them and govern."

Trump Admits He’s Behind
16 hours ago
Ron Klain in Line to Be Clinton’s Chief of Staff?
16 hours ago

Sources tell CNN that longtime Democratic operative Ron Klain, who has been Vice President Biden's chief of staff, is "high on the list of prospects" to be chief of staff in a Clinton White House. "John Podesta, the campaign chairman, has signaled his interest in joining the Cabinet, perhaps as Energy secretary."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.