The children’s story of the fox that people set to guard the henhouse represents a cautionary tale. It warns us of the dangers of granting unfettered access and responsibility within a confined space or field to someone having a conflict of interest. By us placing the fox in charge, we give the predator free rein to literally kill and eat our chickens. What we are left with is a bloodied and depleted henhouse.
In a larger political sense, the story warns us not to allow an industry to engage in “self-regulation” without ensuring sufficient safeguards and alternate means of control, or of hiring industry insiders to monitor their industry.
Unfortunately, we the people failed to heed the warning of this children’s tale by voting in the majority to turn over control (to grant [relatively] unfettered access and responsibility) of the United States Congress, in both houses, to the Republican Party. We don’t know yet exactly the consequences of our collective action, but one thing is certain: as the “majority” Party, Republicans will serve as the chairs of all Senate committees and will continue to do so in the House of Representatives.
What appears to me more like a “Saturday Night Live” parody skit than an actual true-life certainty, Republican Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe is now slated to chair the Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Inhofe has already talked about his desire to slash the EPA budget. Another fox, the current Senate Minority Leader elected from coal-producing Kentucky, who is in line to ascend to Majority Leader in January, has promised to ax EPA’s regulations on carbon emissions from power plants. The not-so-sly Mr. Inhofe, who has referred to human-made climate change as “a hoax,” received $1,352,523 from the oil and gas industries to fill his campaign war chest, including $90,950 from Koch Industries.
I consider James Inhofe the most powerful of the congressional climate change deniers. Inhofe claimed in 2003 that global warming might help humanity.
“It’s also important to question whether global warming is even a problem for human existence. Thus far no one has seriously demonstrated any scientific proof that increased global temperatures would lead to the catastrophes predicted by alarmists. In fact, it appears that just the opposite is true: that increases in global temperatures may have a beneficial effect on how we live our lives.”
Inhofe continued in that speech that an international committee of climate change scientists “resembled a Soviet-style trial, in which the facts are predetermined, and ideological purity trumps technical and scientific rigor.” Three years later, Inhofe compared environmental rights advocates to Nazis.
The Oklahoma Senator released his own report in 2010 written by his staff asserting that alleged emails from a group of climate scientists “reveal, among other things, unethical and potentially illegal behavior by some of the world’s preeminent climate scientists.”
In 2012, Inhofe published a book titled The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. Besides his book, Inhofe authored a report titled “The Facts and Science of Climate Change,” in which he argued that “alarmists will scare the country into enacting their ultimate goal: making energy suppression, in the form of harmful mandatory restrictions on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions, the official policy of the United States.”
The White House recently released its National Climate Assessment reporting that our global climate is, in fact, changing, and this is due primarily to human activity, in particular, the burning of fossil fuels. The Assessment investigated approximately 12,000 professional scientific journal papers on the topic of global climate change, and discovered that in the articles expressing a position on global warming, fully ninety-seven percent authenticated both the reality of global warming and the certainty that humans are the cause.
Additional studies released since the White House report signaled the beginning of the depletion and ultimate total collapse of glaciers in Antarctica, which can continue to raise worldwide sea levels an additional four feet. This depletion is now irreversible.
What seems clear to the scientific community seems like science fiction to many key politicians, including Lamar Smith (R-TX), paradoxically the Chair of the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Science, Space, and Technology who has been a perennial skeptic of human-produced climate change. He stated on the floor of the House:
“We now know that prominent scientists were so determined to advance the idea of human-made global warming that they worked together to hide contradictory temperature data.”
He quoted no sources, and his accusations were later proven false.
Previous Chair of the Committee, Representative Ralph Hall (R-TX) asserted that he does not have concerns about global warming, but, rather, he is “really more fearful of freezing,” even though “I don’t have any science to prove that.” He went even further by stating that he did not “think we can control what God controls.”
Many on the anti-science political and theocratic Right (mis)quote scripture to justify human exploitation of the planet. For example, Republican presidential hopeful, Rick Santorum, questioned Barack Obama’s “theology” in an Ohio campaign stop, February 18, 2012, by asserting that Obama believes in “some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology.”
The next day, when asked to explain his remarks on the CBS news program “Face the Nation” by moderator Bob Schieffer, Santorum responded that he was referring to “the radical environmentalists,” and by implication, placed Obama in this category. Santorum attacked the notion that “man is here to serve the Earth,” which he argued “is a phony ideal.” While Santorum conceded “that man is here to use the resources and use them wisely, to care for the Earth, to be a steward of the Earth,” he was emphatic that “we’re not here to serve the Earth. The Earth is not the objective. Man is the objective. I think a lot of radical environmentalists have it upside-down.”
In yet another ill-conceived and executed Christian crusade, Santorum, with his publicly expressed literal biblical perspective, conjured up such passages as Genesis 1:26, which states:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'”
And Genesis 1:28: “God blessed [humans] and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.'”
Also, Genesis 9: “Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.'”
And Santorum is certainly not alone among his Republican colleagues and electorate. A Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, in their 2008 study “A Deeper Partisan Divide over Global Warming,” found that while fifty-eight percent of respondents who identified as Democrats and fifty percent of Independents believe that global warming is mostly caused by human activity, only twenty-seven percent of Republicans believed this.
Among Democrats, those with higher educational levels, seventy-five percent with college degrees compared with fifty-two percent with less education, expressed the view that solid evidence has shown human activity largely as the cause of global warming. Opposed to the Democrats, however, educational levels of Republicans resulted in an inverse relationship in trusting the scientific evidence with only nineteen percent of Republican college graduates compared with thirty-one percent with less education believing in the human connection to climate change.
Pew’s updated report in 2013 found that overall sixty-seven percent of U.S. residents believe global warming is happening, but only twenty-five percent of Tea Party Republicans believe this.
How many more British Petroleum and Exxon Valdez oil spills, polluted and poisoned waterways and skies, dead lakes, clear cut forests, mine disasters, mutilated and scorched Earth, nuclear power plant accidents and meltdowns, toxic dumps and landfills, trash littered landscapes, extinct animal and plant species, encroachments on land masses by increasingly raising oceans and seas, and how many more unprecedented global climatic fluctuations will it take for the anti-science Republican party to put the health of the planet and by extension of the health of all Earth’s inhabitants on the front burner, if you will, of policy priorities over the unquenchable lust for profits by corporate executives?
For a party claiming to stand as “pro-family,” what kind of legacy and what kind or future are they really bequeathing to our youth? For a party that claims to promote political conservatism and “traditional values,” what is more traditional and valuable than conserving and thus sustaining the Earth’s resources responsibly and equitably?
While differing marginally on specific issues, many Republicans march in lock-step to the drummer of conservative political and corporate dogma centering on a market-driven approach to economic and social policy, including such tenets as reducing the size of the national government and granting more control to state and local governments; severely reducing or ending governmental regulation over the private sector; privatizing governmental services, industries, and institutions including education, health care, and social welfare; permanently incorporating across-the-board non-progressive marginal federal and state tax rates; and possibly most importantly, advancing market driven and unfettered “free market” economics.
Returning to Inhofe, he has also argued that humans lack the ability to affect the world’s climate because God only has that power. Inhofe refuted climate change science in 2012 by citing Scripture.
“[T]he Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.’ My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”
In truth, the conservative Republican battle cry, seemingly coined by Sarah Palin, of “drill baby drill,” unfortunately is what the Obama administration has forwarded, resulting in significantly more domestic oil and natural gas production than under the George W. Bush administration. This, however, is simply unsustainable in terms of underground reserves since the US currently consumes approximately twenty to twenty-five percent of the oil produced worldwide, though we hold in the range of only two percent of planetary oil reserves. This is most definitely unsustainable also if we are to ensure the short-term and long-term health of our planet and living things upon it.
A non-regulated privatized so-called “free-market” economic system lacking in environmental protections is tantamount to a social system deficient of civil and human rights protections for minoritized peoples. The foxes of industry (and media: Fox News) have taken control of a number of henhouses and may ultimately take over the remainder. And we have no one to blame but ourselves for actively – or because of our inaction – placing the foxes in charge and, thereby, leaving us nothing.
If people wish to quote scripture, I suggest heeding the biblical warning of Isaiah 24: 4-6:
“The earth dries up and withers, the world languished and withers, the exalted of the earth languish. The earth lies under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statues, and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt.”
Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).
To combat the views of Senator Inhofe and other conservatives, it is essential that the following facts be stressed:
* Science academies worldwide, 97% of climate scientists, and 99.9% of peer-reviewed articles on the subject agree that climate change is largely human-induced and that it poses a great threat to humanity and to all life on the planet.
* While climate experts think that 350 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric CO2 is a threshold for avoiding increasingly severe climate events, the current level recently reached 400 ppm and is increasing by 2-3 ppm per year.
* Every decade since the 1970s has been warmer than the previous decade.
* While climate deniers argue that the planet has been cooling for the past 16 years, 1998 was a very hot year and it has been warmer in only 2 years since then, but all of the 15 warmest years since temperature records were kept in 1880 have been since 1998. Summer of 2014 is the warmest summer on record and 2014 is on track to be the warmest year worldwide since temperature records were kept.
* Glaciers worldwide and polar ice caps are melting at a very rapid rate.
* There has been an increase in the number and severity of heat waves, droughts, wildfires, storms and floods.
* Almost the entire state of California has severe, extreme, or exceptional drought and this has led to many severe wildfires, leading California governor Jerry Brown to say that “humanity is on a collision course with nature.”
* many climate experts believe that the world is close to a tipping point when climate change will spin out of control with disastrous consequences.
* Military experts see climate change as a potential terrorism and war catalyst as food and water become scarcer and tens of millions hungry, desperate refugees flee from droughts, wildfires, storms and other effects of climate change.
Because of these and other factors, averting a climate catastrophe should become a central focus of society today.
People still in denial about climate change, perhaps thinking it is a liberal plot, should visit the website of ConservAmerica (www.ConservAmerica.org), formerly known as “Republicans for Environmental Protection,” a Conservative group that is very concerned about climatechange and other environmental threats.
Animal-based agriculture has a very significant on climate change. According to a 2006 UN Food and Agriculture report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” animal-based agriculture emits more greenhouse gases (in CO2 equivalents) than is emitted by all the cars, planes, ships, and all other means of transportation worldwide combined. A 2009 report in Worldwatch Magazine, “Livestock and Climate Change,” by two environmentalists associated with the World Bank, argued that the livestock sector is responsible for at least 51% of all human-induced greenhouse gases. One major reason is that methane emitted from animals is at least 72 times as potent as CO2 in the 20 years that methane remains in the atmosphere. Some studies indicate that it is 105 times as potent as CO2 in heating the atmosphere.