Sunday, the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which consists of hundreds of the world's top scientists, released the grand summary of its year's worth of work. Its (conservative) conclusion: if the world can't act quickly to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, our greenhouse gas emissions, we face impacts that will be “severe, pervasive and irreversible."
Monday, and to nobody's surprise, longstanding climate denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) slammed the report, calling its findings "beyond extreme" and characterizing the IPCC itself as "nothing more than a front for the environmental left."
Tuesday, Republicans took control of the Senate, meaning it's all but certain that Inhofe will become the next chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
That's the committee that oversees the Environmental Protection Agency, the agency whose job it is to "address the challenge of climate change" and that Inhofe once compared to the Gestapo. The subcommittees he'll be overseeing focus on issues like clean air, green jobs and environmental health. This means we're putting a man who has written an entire book calling climate change a hoax, who has used scripture to refute climate science, who truly seems to believe that environmental groups are a "political machine" dedicated to "misleading the American public regarding their purely politically partisan agenda under the guise of environmental protection" and who has insisted, with a straight face, that CO2 is not a "real pollutant," in charge of solving climate change.
Inhofe has actually held this position before, from 2003 through 2007. The bright side is that, having already served four years, he's only eligible for two more. But in the intervening years, the need to address climate change has only become more urgent, and Inhofe's already indicated that he plans to go after greenhouse gas regulators, threatening to reverse the small progress the EPA's made in regulating pollutants like methane and emissions from coal-fired power plants. Want to guess how he feels about a national carbon tax, or about the Keystone XL pipeline?
Inhofe isn't someone who's tip-toeing around the issue of man-made climate change, which 97 percent of scientists agree is happening. He's declared full-out war on it. The question now is how much damage Inhofe and his fellow Senate Republicans will be able to do.
The EPA has already determined that, yes, CO2 is a pollutant, and the Supreme Court has ruled that it's within the agency's authority to regulate it as such. But as the New Republic's Rebecca Leber explains, Senate Republicans have ways of blocking the EPA from enforcing its rules, or of just stalling the agency enough so that nothing ever gets done. They might slash funding to the U.N.'s climate efforts, a symbolic gesture of the United States' reluctance to lead in the upcoming international climate negotiations. And those insane measures that managed to pass the House, like the ones that ban the Department of Energy and the Pentagon -- which has identified climate change as an immediate threat to national security -- from even acknowledging climate change, are no longer guaranteed to die in the Senate.
Inhofe himself could spend the next two years holding oversight hearing after oversight hearing, investigating EPA management and the very science underpinning its regulations. As Clean Air Watch president Frank O'Donnell explained to E&E News, instead of serving as a "shield for the executive branch," as it does under current chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the committee could be become "a battering ram against the executive branch," a potentially serious blow to Obama's second-term efforts to leave an environmental legacy.
We probably won't look back on the 2014 elections as THE day we finally gave up on the planet. But for anyone with a stake in mitigating the impacts of climate change -- which is each and every one of us -- it could hardly be more ominous.