Lamar Smith’s magical unicorn ride on climate change

Posted Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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The early Greeks knew a thing or two about unicorns. With elephant feet and a boar’s tail, the animals were said to have a single horn that offered protection from deadly drugs.

The last remaining champion of the unicorn’s historical authenticity may be North Korea’s state news agency, which reported last year the location of the burial site of the uni-horned beast ridden by that kingdom’s founding father 2,000 years ago.

Earlier this month, 18 members of Texas’ congressional delegation earned shiny new “unicorn awards,” presented by an array of environmental groups, intended to recognize each member’s “exceptional extremism and ignoring the overwhelming judgment of science.”

The awards, received by the two Republican U.S. Senators from Texas, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, as well as U.S. Reps. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, and Joe Barton, R-Ennis, are meant to suggest that not believing mainstream climate science is akin to holding a management position at the Korean Central News Agency.

“It’s unbelievable,” Carlos Morales said minutes before he and two dozen other protestors stormed San Antonio’s Tetco tower to deliver the award to Smith’s office. “It’s unbelievable in two ways: that they don’t believe in climate change and how bad it’s actually gotten.”

These climate-change “deniers” are guilty of using a range of rhetoric meant to delay as long as possible concerted, aggressive policies to freeze greenhouse gas emissions driving global temperatures ever higher.

That doesn’t always mean denying global climate change outright.

In a recent Washington Post column, Smith cobbled together a range of climatic and economic statistics meant to suggest that climate action will damage U.S. businesses more than stalling climate chaos will benefit the nation.

In his call for more dialogue, he overlooks both the job-creation potential of an energy-sector transformation and the coming price tag (not to mention human suffering) linked to climate change.

Low-carbon alternatives like solar, wind and new building technologies represent nearly two million jobs, a trio of reports found back in 2009.

And the World Bank reported this month that coastal communities worldwide will be battered to the tune of $1 trillion by 2050 due to rising seas, coastal subsidence and strengthening storms.

Smith makes another gaffe by suggesting that U.S. action on climate change would make inconsequential changes in future temperatures and therefore is not worth the investment.

A shift of .08 of a degree does seem small, but considering that our current course is for a seven-degree rise this century and all the devastation that entails, a fraction of a degree in the other direction would be a huge victory.

Smith and others want to continue studying climate change in spite of consensus among the most prominent research institutions on the planet and a 97-percent agreement among researchers who have studied the issue that human industry is the main driver of today’s warming.

Their ruse draws on a well-worn and bloody playbook.

Denialism’s history is a long and bloody one. Big Tobacco feigned ignorance of smoking’s cancer link for decades while profits — and the number of lung-cancer deaths — rose.

Similarly, vinyl chloride production was linked to liver damage and cancer long before reform came.

“From the very first reports that vinyl chloride could dissolve the finger bones of workers, cause cancer in animals and deform babies, industry had a simple response: More research is needed,” writes epidemiologist Devra Davis in The Secret History of the War on Cancer.

“All scientific work is incomplete,” a renowned public health researcher, Dr. Harriet Hardy, reminded us many years ago. “That does not confer upon us a freedom to ignore the knowledge we already have.”

If Smith and Company want to wait for 100-percent agreement while running defense for the most polluting industries on the planet, they’ll be waiting (and running) a long time.

Greg Harmon writes the Lone Star Green blog. gregharman@gmail.com

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