Republicans won the midterms by hammering Democrats on spending. Now they are hammering an international climate change agreement using the same tactics.
As the first week of the COP 16 Climate Negotiations wound down, the senate’s leading climate denier and three of his loyal followers said they don’t want the American taxpayer to pay for saving the planet.
Mother Jones had a piece last week that focused on Sen. James Inhofe’s (R- Okla.) latest maneuvers against any legislation related to global warming. The latest installment of the climate soap opera I like to call, “As Inhofe Turns” includes a simple plot where the Oklahoma senior senator writes a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking the government to stop “wasting” money on last year’s Copenhagen accord. The accord, agreed upon during the COP 15 meetings, called for the United States to transfer $10 billion dollars during each of the next three years, and a total of $100 billion by 2020 to developing nations for assistance on emissions reeducation and adaptation programs. Other nations made similar pledges.
Inhofe was joined by fellow senators John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), David Vitter (R- Louisiana) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio) in the letter. This fearsome foursome of climate change deniers wrote, "We do not believe that billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars should be transferred to developing countries through unaccountable multilateral or bilateral channels for adaptation, deforestation and other international climate finance programs."
While Inhofe and Barrasso have made a habit out of attacking the science behind climate change in recent years, this time they and the other signees are arguing that government spending is the reason for the letter. Yet, in true Washington tradition, their rhetoric doesn’t exactly match up with their action.
According to LegisStorm’s earmark tracker, the four senators have put their names on more than $400 million worth of earmarks in 2010 alone. Senator Vitter led the way with a whopping 87 earmarks for more than $171 million in 2010. Voinovich was close behind with 79 earmarks last year totaling more than $131 million. Inhofe attached himself to a total of 55 earmarks in 2010 for a total of about $95 million, while Barrasso comes up the rear with $16 million in earmarks with only two of them being solo sponsorships.
Certainly there is a huge difference between $400 million and $10 billion. Still, considering these senators are now moving to a fiscal argument against climate change, it is at least worth noting that like all senators, they are sticking to that tradition of making grand statements on principal that don’t match up with their actions.
Of course, this all comes down to perspective. One man’s wasteful pork barrel project is another man’s essential government expenditure. Similarly, one nation’s carbon pollution caused by economic growth is another nation’s potentially devastating challenge. Consider this: While the United States and China emit huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, the Maldives will one day have to physically relocate its country because of sea level rise caused by climate change. Perspective is important to recognizing the political challenges of climate change; it’s not too dissimilar from the fine line between necessary and wasteful spending.
In the United States, the challenges of needing a National World War II museum, or improving the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, or building a National Guard Joint training and experimentation center in Guernsey, Wyoming or a $10 million military control tower in Oklahoma are solvable thanks to earmarks and thanks to our fine system. The American taxpayer foots the bill for all these needs, which have been determined to be needs by those on Capitol Hill.
All politics is local and pork projects are as local as it gets. But climate change is a challenge to this methodology. Emissions produced at the local coal power plant can trap heat that melts glaciers, flood a small nation, or cause droughts or mudslides in places oceans away. The people in these places don’t vote for our leaders, but they will one way or another depend on them.
When the aforementioned devastating events happen, it is almost a given that the generosity of the United States will come to the rescue with aid money, survival supplies and donation campaigns. We will either spend the money now or spend it after the disasters happen. And while the check will clear if it’s written now or decades from now, you can’t change the rising sea levels, the glacial melt, the mudslides or the deaths retroactively. That is the wisdom behind America’s generous financial commitment to developing nations over the next ten years. That is the wisdom behind last year’s Copenhagen accord. The accord is not a commitment to secure votes in Oklahoma, Wyoming, Ohio or Louisiana. It’s a commitment to save lives and resources and spend our money to prevent disasters instead of reacting to them.
If it were as easy as sneaking earmarks into the budget this would have already been done. But it’s not easy. That’s why the aforementioned senators pretend climate change is not a real issue. Denying science, ignoring overwhelming consensus on climate change and exaggerating small mistakes made by scientists is easy. Talking in fifteen-second sound bites, and whooping up excitable conspiracy theorists is easy. Being inconsistent with what you say and what you do is easy. Combating climate change with practical solutions is hard. So these senators stick to what they do best: doing the easy and ignoring the hard. It will probably lead to long careers on Capitol Hill. In many cases it already has.