GOP Climate-Deniers Lose a Point

The Republican mid-term victories were viewed as a big win for global-warming deniers and their oil-and-coal industry backers, but China’s surprising acceptance of greenhouse gas limits removes one of the chief arguments against the U.S. doing something about the climate crisis, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

This week’s announcement of a U.S.-Chinese agreement on curbing greenhouse gases is very important, including in some ways that Michael Levi’s expert analysis effectively captures. As Levi notes, this agreement was a marked departure for China not only in terms of the numerical goals set but also in the manner of setting them, in the form of an agreement negotiated with the United States.

This goes against the prior Chinese habit of treating climate change, like Beijing treats many things, as a subject on which China must firmly assert its independence.

President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of China greet children during the State Arrival Welcome Ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Nov. 12, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of China greet children during the State Arrival Welcome Ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Nov. 12, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The agreement surprised many from the standpoint not only of Chinese policy-making habits but also of American politics. The dominant story line as President Obama left on his current trip was that, with his party having just gotten whupped in the mid-term election, he would struggle to assert U.S. power and influence. But instead his visit to China has been productive.

Getting Beijing’s signature on the environmental accord has been the biggest achievement, but other deliverables have included a substantial trade agreement and progress toward averting U.S.-Chinese incidents at sea. As Sarah Palin might remark if her political allegiances were different, “How’s that weak-president-shuffling-off-to-Beijing thing workin’ out for ya?”

Much more important than political story lines are the substance, symbolism and momentum contained in the emissions accord itself. The sheer fact of the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases jointly arriving at such an objective is itself significant. Any direct benefit involved will have a multiplier effect to the degree that it imparts momentum to efforts to negotiate broader multilateral commitments and action.

The effects also will be beneficial insofar as they affect debates in the United States, where pre-Enlightenment opposition to doing something about climate change is still all too deeply entrenched. The accord with China will at least help to refute the argument that it wouldn’t make sense for the United States to get out in front on this issue when other emitters, and China is the biggest emitter of all, are not doing their part.

Failed Hewlett-Packard executive and unsuccessful senatorial candidate Carly Fiorina made exactly this argument the other day in a pro-pollution op-ed in which she blithely observed that “no form of energy is perfect” and that “action by a single state or nation will make little difference.”

The domestic political task of getting the United States to live up to negotiated goals and to doing its necessary share will still be formidable. The election result earlier this month made it even more formidable. Probably the person who personifies this unfortunate fact the most is Sen. James Inhofe, R- Oklahoma, who has declared that “manmade global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” In a fox-overseeing-the-henhouse situation, Inhofe will take over as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Maybe, just maybe, the accord announced in Beijing will nudge the deniers and other opponents of action at least slightly away from their Dark Ages attitude toward science, from their narrow focus on denying not just scientifically derived knowledge but also anything that smells like an accomplishment for Barack Obama, and from a short-sighted focus on quarterly results of the coal industry on Kentucky or the oil industry in Oklahoma, and lead them to give some thought to doing the responsible thing to preserve a habitable environment.

Another of the standard knocks on President Obama is that he plays only small ball and hits only singles, and that he doesn’t think strategically enough and go for home runs. There is nothing more strategic and big-picture than saving the planet. The agreement announced in Beijing cannot count for a home run because it is only the setting, and not yet the achieving, of a goal. But it is an important step toward getting around the bases.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

14 comments for “GOP Climate-Deniers Lose a Point

  1. Abe
    November 16, 2014 at 17:04

    US-China Climate Accord is Neither “Historic” nor a “Landmark”

  2. JWalters
    November 15, 2014 at 21:19

    The oligarchy is clearly trying to bring on a climate catastrophe, there is no other explanation for their apparent “ignorance” or “insanity”. The reason they are doing this, and also pushing “shock doctrine” attacks on all fronts, is out of desperation. They foresee a looming break in their information dam, when their role in 9/11 will come out. And when it does, chaos on a massive scale could help them escape justice. Or it could just add an even more horrific crime to the charges.

  3. Robert Wallace
    November 15, 2014 at 15:47

    What behavior(s) did China promise to change? Who verifies and enforces those? v

  4. November 14, 2014 at 20:50

    U.S.- China Climate Deal – Less Than Meets the Eye?

    By Ronald Bailey| Reason | November 12, 2014

    Yesterday, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a “joint announcement on climate change” in which each country made pledges about how they intend to handle future emissions of their greenhouse gas emissions. Mother Jones hailed the announcement as a “game-changer.” Maybe not. …

    • Zachary Smith
      November 14, 2014 at 23:13

      Your author Ronald Bailey is a libertarian hack with two BAs: Philosophy and Economics, so he knows little enough about the science of climate change.

      But there was nothing wrong with his political reasoning in your link story, and I’m in agreement with what he wrote there.

      There is definitely less than meets the eye with the big China-US announcement.

      • November 15, 2014 at 09:56

        Which begs the question, whats up with the hype coming out of Mother Jones, Common Dreams etc… ?

        This is a good case for demonstrating the value in broadening ones sources of analysis. Lest one become embarrassed by having fallen for an inane meme promoted by partisans.

      • Zachary Smith
        November 15, 2014 at 13:57

        Which begs the question, whats up with the hype coming out of Mother Jones, Common Dreams etc… ?

        As for that, I can only speculate, and my speculations may sound like (or actually be) sychobabable.

        Some people had very high hopes for BHO when they voted for him in 2008. When he turned out to be as useless as teats on a rooster, it was difficult for them to admit how badly they’d been gulled. So they stayed with their man, becoming what I call Obots.

        When he finally threw them a crumb, they started rejoicing, even though his record indicates the climate promise will be just another one of his lies.

        • November 15, 2014 at 15:24

          Another reason to diversify ones sources of analysis.

          And, to think, some people actually see Mother Jones and Common Dreams as something other than establishment media.

  5. Ann
    November 14, 2014 at 15:24

    It is well understood by every possible measurement that the Pentagon, the U.S. military machine, is the world’s biggest institutional consumer of petroleum products and the world’s worst polluter of greenhouse gas emissions and many other toxic pollutants. Yet the Pentagon has a blanket exemption in all international climate agreements.

    Ever since the Kyoto Accords or Kyoto Protocol negotiations in 1998, in an effort to gain U.S. compliance, all U.S. military operations worldwide and within the U.S. are exempt from measurement or agreements on reduction. The U.S. Congress passed an explicit provision guaranteeing U.S. military exemptions. (Interpress Service, May 20, 1998)

    The complete U.S. military exemption from greenhouse gas emissions calculations includes more than 1,000 U.S. bases in more than 130 countries around the world, its 6,000 facilities in the U.S., its aircraft carriers and jet aircraft. Also excluded are its weapons testing and all multilateral operations such as the giant U.S. commanded NATO military alliance and AFRICOM, the U.S. military alliance now blanketing Africa. The provision also exempts U.S./UN-sanctioned activities of “peacekeeping” and “humanitarian relief.”

    After gaining this giant concession the U.S. government still refused to sign the Kyoto Accord, thus sabotaging years of international effort at an agreement.

    The provisions of the Kyoto Protocol nevertheless became the basis of all future proposed international meetings on a climate treaty, including Copenhagen 2009, Cancun, 2010, Durban 2011, Doha 2012 and the United Nations upcoming 21st Conference of the Parties on Climate Change meeting in Paris in 2015.

    In all past international conferences it was again and again the U.S. government that sabotaged the meetings and refused to be bound by any treaty. The Obama Administration on Aug. 27 again confirmed that at the UN meeting in New York in September to prepare for the 2015 Paris meeting that only a non-binding agreement could be put forward.

    The Pentagon — the climate elephant
    By Sara Flounders

    • JWalters
      November 15, 2014 at 21:22

      This is an important point. And the Obama administration has realized it can have a large impact by moving the military green, and have programs going, including the Navy’s Green Fleet.

  6. Monika Gorska
    November 14, 2014 at 15:10

    A very interesting piece, thank you Mr. Pillar. Below some interesting citations and links on Anthropogenic Global Worming and more:
    “The Problem with Climate Scientists, Politicans and Car Salesmen…”: :
    “What defies comprehension in all this is the lack of agreement even among developing nations, of what constitutes the “green economy”, “climate change”, “green jobs”. The delegates from the United States, the European union, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, who are all fully committed to the green agenda barely have a grip on the science themselves. It is obvious, despite what may get reported in the nytimes that the absence of scientific consensus has politicians wondering what they themselves should be addressing. Even the prophet of climate doom James Lovelock has gone back on his words, and recognizes that the apocalypse is not around the corner. If scientists can’t agree, how could politicians?”

    “Unfortunately, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development does not come with a power-train warranty. Whatever course is charted will be irreparable. If the Conference is successful in forming a new “green” course for the global community, there will be no going back to the car dealer. It could turn out to be a complete economic failure, as have green initiatives in California. Except this time it will be on a global scale, and in countries that cannot afford it.”

    “Climategate: the final nail in the coffin of ‘Anthropogenic Global Warming’?”: :

    “In September – I wrote the story up here as “How the global warming industry is based on a massive lie” – CRU’s researchers were exposed as having “cherry-picked” data in order to support their untrue claim that global temperatures had risen higher at the end of the 20th century than at any time in the last millenium. CRU was also the organisation which – in contravention of all acceptable behaviour in the international scientific community – spent years withholding data from researchers it deemed unhelpful to its cause. This matters because CRU, established in 1990 by the Met Office, is a government-funded body which is supposed to be a model of rectitude. Its HadCrut record is one of the four official sources of global temperature data used by the IPCC.”

    “Unfortunately, we’ve a long, long way to go before the public mood (and scientific truth) is reflected by our policy makers. There are too many vested interests in AGW, with far too much to lose either in terms of reputation or money, for this to end without a bitter fight. “

    • Zachary Smith
      November 14, 2014 at 21:22

      Well, I’ll concede you’ve located a genuine pair of Climate Science Deniers. Only one small problem: neither one of these yahoos are likely to know anything at all about any kind of science. First up:

      Stefano Gennarini is the Director of the Center for Legal Studies at the Center for Family and Human Rights Institute. Stefano also oversees C-Fam’s Edmund Burke Fellowship program.

      Stefano earned a Juris Doctor from Notre Dame Law School in Indiana in 2011 and was a Blackstone Legal Fellow in 2009. Before attending law school, Stefano trained to be a priest at the Redemptoris House of Formation in London and attended Hyethrop College, University of London where he obtained a Bachelor in Theology. While in the United Kingdom, Stefano also gained experience in editing and translations with the Catholic Truth Society (CTS).

      Prior to being appointed Director of the Center for Legal Studies, Stefano worked with C-FAM through the Notre Dame Law School Public Service Initiative program as a researcher employed by the University of Notre Dame. He has lived and worked in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Italy and worked as a missionary in Nigeria, the West Indies, and Israel. He is fluent in Italian and Spanish. He is married to Elizabeth Marie Gennarini, and lives in Maywood, New Jersey.

      This character ought to stick to what he knows best – telling lies about abortion.

      Next up:

      James Delingpole is a writer, journalist and broadcaster who is right about everything. He is the author of numerous fantastically entertaining books, including his most recent work Watermelons: How the Environmentalists are Killing the Planet, Destroying the Economy and Stealing Your Children’s Future, also available in the US, and in Australia as Killing the Earth to Save It. His website is

      Another search says he was a freaking English Major at Oxford.

      Seriously, can’t you locate a Denier who studied Science, but isn’t on the payroll of Big Energy?

      • Monika Gorska
        November 15, 2014 at 07:51

        You’ve read their curriculum – Well done! I have been suspecting, anyway, that I have wondered away to the wrong place and it’s a time to say “good bye”. I am not interested in politics. Thank you for respectful comment (even though we dissent essentially in opinions).

  7. Zachary Smith
    November 14, 2014 at 12:34

    I wish I could share Mr. Pillar’s optimism, but I can’t. I’ve just been reviewing Obama’s promises on Climate Change, and have concluded he’ll say anything, but do nothing. Or less than nothing.

    Even if he really did want to deliver on the latest Chinese ‘deal’, I believe the Republicans would prevent it. And I don’t believe he really wants to do anything except run his mouth and burnish his ‘legacy’.

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