People For the American Way

Conspiracies and Cynical Indifference Are the Right’s Latest Climate Strategy


First published in The Hill.

A great story circulated on several media platforms before this month’s solar eclipse.

It describes a famous “Battle of the Eclipse” that took place thousands of years ago in what is now Turkey. Two armies were in a heated fight when suddenly an eclipse blotted out the sun. Stunned by this, the warriors stopped fighting and struck a truce, ending a six-year war and no doubt saving many lives.

It’s fascinating to read about it today because we can imagine how ordinary people back then would have been overwhelmed by an eclipse, a natural phenomenon they didn’t understand.

It’s also interesting because that eclipse is said to have been predicted by one philosopher who paved the way for early astronomy. Eventually, superstition about natural phenomena in the heavens was replaced by science and rationality.

That process of science supplanting superstition has been a through-line in the history of human civilization. And it’s generally considered a good thing.

So it’s frustrating to see segments of American society so determined to turn back the clock and embrace various forms of science denialism.

It’s also incredibly dangerous, especially when it infiltrates politics as it’s doing now.

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has been an anti-vaxxer for years. He also says wi-fi causes cancer, implies that antidepressants can blamed for school shootings and says chemicals in the water cause kids to become transgender. Lately, his campaign seems to be making room for climate change deniers as well.

And he’s not alone. Science denialism — especially when it comes to climate change — is also embedded in Republican Party orthodoxy.

Donald Trump irrationally insists that the earth is going to “start getting cooler” and thumbed his nose at climate change when he pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Now, environmentalists are deeply concerned that another Trump term would be even worse. Not only are Trump’s views well known but climate denialism (along with plenty of other terrifying and reactionary ideas) is threaded throughout Project 2025, the far right’s blueprint for the next Republican administration.

Project 2025 would force climate science rejection on the Departments of Energy, Commerce, Defense and Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Weather Service, the National Hurricane Center and more. It would reorganize the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, to squash “climate alarmism.”

In a blow to national security, it would block the Pentagon from considering climate issues in its planning, at a time when climate crises are destabilizing influences in many countries and could lead to unrest and war.

It’s hard to pick apart all the factors that underlie the science denialism and conspiracy theories embraced by Kennedy and certain elements of the far right. But it’s not hard to figure out what motivates the climate denialism among leaders of today’s MAGA-driven Republican Party.

The answer is money and the deep pockets of the fossil fuel industry.

And lately, those forces are getting craftier. Earlier this year CNN reported on a new trend in climate denialism on social media, calling it “new denial.”

“New denial” admits that the climate might be changing. But it encourages people to reject action to counteract climate change, claiming it won’t work.

If you suspect this is a thinly disguised industry disinformation campaign, you could be right. One researcher notes that it’s “extremely unlikely” that this widespread shift in tone is “the result of organic social media activity.”

Meanwhile, rejecting science — whether in the field of climate change, medicine or other disciplines — doesn’t just make us less informed; it makes us poorer, weaker and sicker. Millions of people suffer, get sick and die from the cancer alleys, COVID deaths and other harms that happen when greed, politics and willful ignorance combine into science denialism.

We saw far too much of that in the Trump administration. Researchers from Columbia University and the nonprofit Climate Science Legal Defense fund report that Trump’s effort to undermine scientific research included 154 documented cases of federal government censorship of scientists.

That’s horrifying, and we can’t let it happen again.

We need leaders who embrace science. That seems like the most American of ideas; our space program, for example, was always a great source of national pride.

We need leaders who recognize that America won’t be globally competitive unless we nurture the next generation of scientific innovators. Kids are smart; STEM in schools won’t make sense to them if grownups treat science with disdain.

We need leaders who look at an awe-inspiring eclipse and are reminded how far we’ve come in understanding our world but also how many paths to scientific discovery still remain.

We need leaders to take us down those paths, not slam the door to them. The choice is ours.


Climate change, Far Right