Republicans' terrifying climate denial: Tonight's debate will showcase the GOP at its anti-science worst

With the candidates hours away from facing off, there's one issue they agree on -- dangerous science denialism

Published August 6, 2015 6:46PM (EDT)

Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush                              (Reuters/AP/Sara Stathas/Kevin Lamarque/Stephan Savoia/David Manning)
Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush (Reuters/AP/Sara Stathas/Kevin Lamarque/Stephan Savoia/David Manning)

The first Republican presidential debates tonight might be a fun/terrifying event in a sort of rubbernecking kind of way, but if you care about the environment you may already be feeling a mild sense of depression. Most of the ten candidates on the main stage don't appear inclined to trust the science behind evolution, let alone global warming. In case you can't remember which ones are the regular deniers and which ones are the W.I.F.S., Lindsay Abrams recently provided some handy rankings, from those who think climate change might be something we should think about acting on eventually maybe (Lindsay Graham, George Pataki) to those who want to dig a grave for the climate for the sole purpose of pissing on it (Scott Walker). Some of those appearing on the main stage have sounded almost-reasonable in the past, but have become less and less so as the primaries draw near. Tonight's debate could be their chance to really drive that denial home to likely primary voters.

For debate purposes, it is fortunate that this week saw the release of the EPA's Clean Power Plan; this at least increases the likelihood that climate change will be a topic in some form. The candidates have had days to practice their talking points but haven't really come to any consensus besides the usual claims that it will kill jobs, harm the economy, and increase energy costs. They say that about everything.

Many at least managed to each their own flavor. Mike Huckabee continued a recent tradition of derailing from climate change to the threat posed by radical Islam. Ted Cruz didn't think the Plan was constitutional, adding it to the increasingly long list of what Ted Cruz doesn't think is constitutional. Scott Walker redubbed the Clean Power Plan the "Costly Power Plan" in a tweet, and then later joined with fellow governors John Kasich of Ohio and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana in a legal complaint against the new rules.

A number of people have come out in recent days to urge the candidates to address climate change, including, in a brilliantly troll-ish move, California Governor Jerry Brown, who posted an open letter right to Fox's Facebook page soliciting debate questions. Wealthy campaign donor Tom Steyer urged the Fox moderators to bring up the topic. The leaders of Catholic organizations and charities led seventy interfaith leaders in a letter reminding the candidates, several of whom are Catholic, about Pope Francis' encyclical urging climate action. And Andrew Revkin at the New York Times even found a coalition of climate-concerned Republicans holding a debate party near the site of the debates. Hopefully, Fox News won't be able to resist bringing the topic up directly, and that will begin the dilemma. No Republican will be able to get through the crowded primaries without doubling down on denial, but if they go too far they may risk alienating more centrist voters, even within their own party. So while it might be a bit much to hope one or more of them might say something sensible for once, we can at least get a preview of just how nuts the next several months are going to be.

By Nassir Isaf

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