Politics, Not Science, Drives Climate Change Debate

By Frank X. Mullen

On its fringes, the battle over climate change has become a contest between twin Chicken Littles: believers predict economic collapse and a virtual apocalypse if we don’t reduce use of fossil fuels; deniers say climate cycles are natural and claim that those who fear global warming won’t be satisfied until all Americans live like Amish people, without cars or other modern technology.

Nowhere is the debate more polarized and over-the-top than at the federal level. Many GOP lawmakers are climate change skeptics, while most Democrats favor action to reduce carbon emissions. With Jacky Rosen’s defeat of Sen. Dean Heller in November, Rep. Mark Amodei is now the lone climate change skeptic in the Nevada delegation.

“I do not believe it is appropriate for the federal government to advocate one position over another in discussions of climate change,” Amodei says on his website. “I do think that we should promote unbiased scientific research funded by both the government and the private sector to help answer climate change questions and bring effective solutions to any human causes.”

In a letter to a constituent in 2016, Amodei made similar statements. And while he noted that “since 1990, the U.S. has spent at least $50 billion on climate research,” he wrote that “many scientists disagree as to its causes and how to handle it. I recognize that some scientists believe that global warming is caused by failed environmental practices; however, others argue that these temperature increases would incur regardless due to the warming of the center of the earth.”

Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that about 97 percent of climate scientists agree that warming trends over the past century are probably a result of human activities, according to NASA. Although the planet does have a molten core, the scientific consensus is that the deep heat doesn’t’ affect temperatures at the surface. Last month Nevada Washington Watch asked Amodei, via emails to his press office, if his opinion remains the same. He also was invited to pen a guest editorial explaining his views. We received no response.

Betsy Fadali, Reno director of the Citizens Climate Lobby, says she takes Amodei at his word that he hasn’t seen enough evidence. She says activists and scientists have reached out to the congressman to make the case for man-made climate change. “(Amodei) is a member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, so his views may have shifted a little bit,” she says.

Nevada Washington Watch also asked the other five members of the Nevada delegation about their current positions on climate change and whether they support the Green New Deal, a proposal to mitigate climate change and address economic inequality. Only Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s office replied:

“The senator is currently reviewing the Green New Deal and looks forward to hearing from Nevadans on this important resolution,” says Lauren Wodarski, Cortez Masto’s deputy press secretary. “She is glad that Democrats are putting forth bold ideas on how to combat climate change, foster green energy innovation and protect workers. She looks forward to working together to implement smart policy solutions that involve all of the stakeholders who will move our climate, and our economy, into the future.”

Cortez Masto has a long track record of environmental policies. She passed legislation in the previous Congress to allow airports to use funds to purchase zero-emission vehicles and co-led a bill to help public transit systems buy electric buses. She also cosponsored a bill to rescind President Donald Trump’s executive order reversing the Clean Power Plan. Cortez Masto has helped secure millions of dollars to support the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act and has participated in the annual Lake Tahoe Summit. In addition, she supported legislation to create new tax credits to incentivize renewable energy innovation throughout the country.

The other members of the delegation also have backed climate change mitigation measures.

When she was president of Nevada ’s largest synagogue, Sen. Jacky Rosen led a team to build one of the largest solar projects by a nonprofit in the city of Henderson , cutting energy costs by up to 70 percent. She also has opposed the administration’s efforts to dismantle the Clean Power Plan.

Rep. Susie Lee Susie Lee has worked as an environmental consultant, focusing on water and air quality management. During her campaign last year, she pledged to be a strong voice for conservation, environmental protections, animal welfare, and environmental justice. “I will be a leader in Congress when it comes to energy independence and combating climate change,” she wrote.

Rep. Dina Titus has said Nevadans can see the effects of climate change in their own backyard. She says that “in Las Vegas , we know the consequences that we face if we don’t act with vigor.” Titus says the nation can’t delay in trying to blunt the effects of climate change.

As Nevada Senate majority leader, Rep. Steven Horsford, helped pass the “Clean Energy Jobs Initiative” to help Nevada become a renewable energy producer and fought to increase the Silver State ’s Renewable Portfolio Standard. Environmental issues are often the topic of Horsford’s Twitter feed, as in this tweet from January: “Climate change threatens to raise temperatures, intensify droughts, and increase wildfires all across Nevada . I’ll continue working with my colleagues on @NRDems to find solutions to this crisis. #ActOnClimate”

Although many climate change deniers argue that mitigation efforts are too costly, the federal government’s Fourth National Climate Assessment, released in December, concluded it will be exponentially more expensive to not deal with the issue: “With continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century,” the report says. “Without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century.”ate of our economy a decade from now,” Amodei wrote.