You've probably heard it a million times: Elections have consequences. Do they ever! In 2008, the coalition that elected Barack Obama and a sizable Democratic majority had little doubt that one consequence would be a dramatic shift on climate change, that after eight years of denial from the Bush administration there would be some concerted governmental effort to tackle global warming. Not only did no such thing happen, but now the political winds have pulled a 180.
Instead of legislation aimed at reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases in the United States, some leaders of the incoming GOP majority have called for McCarthy-style hearings going after leading climate change scientists, seeking to prove that the scientific findings that have been peer-reviewed and widely accepted were in fact manipulated to deceive the public. A centerpiece of such an investigation would be the hacked emails that became the debunked scandal called "Climategate" on the right.
There's good reason to believe that "Climategate" will be re-bunked by the House GOP majority in 2011.
But there's been virtually no publicity about who exactly would lead such a witch hunt. There's mounting evidence that the task will fall to one of the congressional icons of the Tea Party Movement, Georgia Rep. Paul Broun, who is in line to become the chairman of the Investigations and Oversight panel of the House Science Committee. Broun -- who was virtually unknown until he made one of the first major Obama-Hitler comparisons even before the 44th president was inaugurated -- isn't just one of the increasing number of Republicans who questions the sciene of climate change, but he has taken to the House floor to declare global warming "a hoax."
Initially, speculation had been that the high-profile soon-to-be chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, California Republican Darryl Issa, might launch a major probe of the hacked emails, since he is also a global warming skeptic and had been critical back in 2009 of Democrats for failing to investigate the scientists who sent them. Since the election, Issa has said his panel will likely probe allegations of waste and abuse in some of the most costly federal programs; the science of global warming, Issa said, would likely be left to the Science Committee. Issa told The Hill: "A lot of it will, rightfully so, fall to the Science Committee. We are not a committee of jurisdiction on the science of it."
Some environmentalists seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. They were apparently unaware that the chief GOP prober on the Science Committee is a representative who makes Issa and some of his Republican colleagues look like Bill Nye the Science Guy when it comes to environmental issues. To Broun, a belief in gloabl warming isn't just wrong but part of a conspiracy.
At least that's he told the John Birch Society.
Broun's spokeswoman, Debbee Keller, didn't return my phone call seeking to learn more about Broun's plan for the science subcommittee in 2011. That's no surprise there, as increasingly Tea Party-linked figures simply ignore the "lamestream media." Broun's office never once answered my calls when I investigated the congressman and his extreme right-wing connections for my recent book, The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama. In the chapter on Broun as poster boy for the increasing radicalism of the Republicans in Congress, I wrote about his ties to an event called the National Liberty Unity Summit, which also featured the radical Oath Keepers, a Tea Party activist scandalized by his misspelled N-word sign, and an Oklahoma City bombing conpsiracy theorist. Broun was only member of Congress to speak at a Second Amendment pro-gun march on Washington, and a Broun congressional staffer moderated an Atlanta event linked to the neo-secessionist League of the South. In frustration over Obama's health care plan, Broun later referred on the House floor to "the Great War of Yankee Aggression."
But some of Broun's most outrageous statements pertain to climate change. In October 2009, Broun spoke in Atlanta at a black-tie gala of the John Birch Society, and it was there that he suggested that climate change theories were part of a New World Order conspiracy to destroy America, one that was even linked to a Republican president, George H.W. Bush; Said Broun:
They used to talk about global warming -- y'all might remember a few years ago they were talking about an ice age was coming. It's the same folks, the folks who want to change America, want to rule America. They want to change us to a New World Order. President George Herbert Walker Bush, remember, very openly said he wanted to have a New World Order. And all of these things are a progression of their outward efforts to destroy America, to destroy our freedom ... The John Birch Society is trying very hard to get the right people elected to Congress. There are very few of us --very few.
Except there's more of them with the 2010 election. Meanwhile, Broun has said more about his climate change theories on the floor of the House:
Scientists all over this world say that the idea of human induced global climate change is one of the greatest hoaxes perpetrated out of the scientific community. It is a hoax. There is no scientific consensus. … And who's going to be hurt most [by ACES] the poor, the people on limited income…the people who can least afford to have their energy taxes raised by MIT says $3100 per family. … This bill must be defeated. We need to be good stewards of our environment, but this is not it, it's a hoax! … [APPLAUSE.]
Broun, a physician who in the years before his election to the House from northeastern Georgia only made house calls, has already shown a willingness since his election to Congress in a 2007 special election to question science-related programs that disagree with his far-right philosophy in which very few things that government does is authorized by the Constitution. "The federal government has no business setting nutritional standards and telling families what they should and should not eat," he said recently in arguing against food-safety legislation. One has to wonder where Broun and his conspiracy theories will go once he and his GOP colleagues have the votes, come January, to issue subpoenas and grill witnesses.
Indeed, the incoming Republicans have already said they will kill the House Select Committee on Global Warming -- a clear signal that climate change denial will rule on Capitol Hill for the next two years. Indeed, the reversal of fortune -- coming in one of the warmest years on record -- and the growing possibility of decent scientists being dragged before hostile committee hearings to defend their work is a powerful symbol of our coming dystopian government. But nothing is more frightful than the notion that the environmental future of the planet may fall to a faithful follower of Brother John Birch.