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Kentucky Is Drowning, Yet Its Senators Remain Climate Science Skeptics
Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul can't bring themselves to support environmental legislation that could mitigate and reverse extreme weather, while Joe Manchin eats their lunch
Monday, Monday—so good to me, and mostly because it’s good to see you again as we turn into August. If you wish to contribute to flood relief in Kentucky, please go to this state government-sponsored site. As always, if you have a friend who would enjoy this post, please
As I watched the devastating flooding over the weekend, I wondered: how many people have to drown, how many Kentucky homes must be lost to water and wind, and how many communities must be devastated to get that state’s senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, to support climate change legislation?
But apparently, they can’t. Neither can Tennessee Senator Bill Hagerty or his colleague Marsha Blackburn—a woman who has asserted firmly that climate change is “unproven science.” Furthermore, if the GOP could admit that we are in the midst of a climate crisis caused by human actions that could change, we would be closer to both sides of the aisle living in the same reality, and that would never do. In fact, the GOP wants to prevent this at all costs since creating an alternative universe where Republican voters can hate Democrats without limits is literally their only national electoral strategy.
As a result, a substantial number of voters, many in red states, think that God is in charge and we need to figure out what He is so mad about. In 2017, evangelical Rick Wiles said it was homosexuality. Pointing to the most recent flood that New Orleans had suffered from Hurricane Harvey, he noted that powerful storms were retribution for the city’s sinfulness. "Here's a city that has boasted of its LGBT devotion, its affinity for the sexual perversion movement in America. They're underwater."
OK, it’s fine if you want to believe that personally, but when it becomes a policy question, this is where experts and leaders, conservative and liberal, have traditionally played an important role. It’s not dangerous for ordinary folks who believe that God needs to be dissuaded from destroying all of us to think that national and spiritual health are one and the same. But, according to a 2021 study by the Center for American Progress, our current Congress includes “109 representatives and 30 senators who refuse to acknowledge the scientific evidence of human-caused climate change.” A substantial voting block in both houses,
these climate deniers comprise 52 percent of House Republicans; 60 percent of Senate Republicans; and more than one-quarter of the total number of elected officials in Congress. Furthermore, despite the decline in total overall deniers in Congress, a new concerning trend has emerged: Of the 69 freshmen representatives and senators elected to their respective offices in 2020, one-third deny the science of climate change, including 20 new House Republicans and three-of-four new Republican senators. Of note, no currently serving Democratic or independent elected officials have engaged in explicit climate denial by this analysis’ definition.
As an energy-producing state, albeit one that is adapting to the shift away from coal, Kentuckians may be heartened to know that one of their Senators, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, does now believe in climate change even though it took him almost thirty years to reach that position. In 2019, pressed in the general election by the well-funded Democrat Amy McGrath, McConnell did admit that human activity is related to global warming.
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But in a way, this shift just modified McConnell’s previous position: none of us know enough about climate science to promote a sound plan that would avert the extreme weather hellscape our planet is becoming. Until such a time, far in the future, when Mitch knows everything he needs to know, it is not wise to do anything at all. “I’m not a scientist,” he shrugs as if that was an explanation for not learning about something for which he is responsible. McConnell dismisses scientific solutions, has no plan he favors and says he supports “common sense and attainable solutions to protect our environment.” In 2021, McConnell voted against all 13 climate bills.
McConnell’s colleague, Senator Rand Paul, is a medical doctor who presumably has a scientific education. As one outlet put it during Paul’s brief presidential run in 2015, the junior senator from Kentucky “is prone to making ignorant, conspiracist statements” not just about climate change, which he says is a mystery, but “about science in general.” Paul, whose father Ron actively promoted the idea that climate change was a hoax, says sage things like: “While I do think man may have a role in our climate, I think nature also has a role,” and “The truth is there are just as many and even more qualified scientists refuting the sketchy and questionable evidence regarding global warming.” This is not, in fact, the truth.
Paul, a libertarian whose chief bugaboo is government waste, has never voted for a single piece of environmental or disaster relief legislation since he was sworn in as a Senator in 2011. But when disaster strikes, such as the wave of tornadoes that devastated Kentucky communities in 2021, Paul is perfectly ready to go to the White House with his hand out. A section of his website offers to help Kentuckians access these funds.
I’m not interested in promoting accusations about these two senators' cynicism, hypocrisy, and sheer irresponsibility: I am curious about something else. How much misery will it take for a lane in Republican politics, in Kentucky or in any other state represented by climate deniers, for candidates who actually help their constituents recognize the obvious—that extreme weather events require a real legislative program? Conservatives who understood and acted on the principle that if we are going to continue to live on the planet energy companies have to make their money in a different, cleaner way?
Instead, as a portion of the upper south, an area as big as any of the three states affected by it, literally drowns, Republican Senators are doing the opposite. They are howling at Joe Manchin, who I guess they thought was their pal, and who turned out to be a Trojan Horse (this time.) Furthermore, they are threatening revenge against the Democrats for cutting a deal with Manchin over the $433 billion Inflation Reduction Act, which contains an unprecedented $369 billion climate package.
Admittedly, no one saw this coming since Manchin is owned and operated by Big Coal. But what are the Republicans doing? Thinking that they are making the libs cry, they are punishing military veterans whose lungs are irreparably impaired by inhaling toxic fumes from burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Forty-one members of the Republican caucus voted to stall a bill—one that most of them had just voted for— bumping fists afterward to celebrate the continued suffering of people who volunteered to fight for, as Republicans say, “our freedom.”
The bill is, of course, full of things that Joe Manchin wanted for West Virginia. That’s how the system works, sports fans. While Manchin’s is one of three states affected by the ongoing flooding, it is fair to say that the situation in southeastern Kentucky today is catastrophic. As I write, the towns of Bowling Green, Marrowbone, Bradfordsville, Richmond, and Albany have broken their two-day rainfall records. The North Fork of the Kentucky River near Whitesburg rose 18 feet in ten hours, six feet higher than has ever been recorded. Thousands of people have been displaced, their homes lost or ruined. Thirty-five Kentuckians are confirmed dead, some of them children, and hundreds of Kentuckians are as yet unaccounted for. Since yesterday, the National Guard has been flying people out of areas where the water is rising too fast for them to get away on their own.
According to this map, half the state of Kentucky is either flooded or on flood watch. What is less talked about is that most of West Virginia and portions of Virginia and Tennessee are also in a state of emergency.
But the damage, for many, will be life-changing: losing your home is one of the most traumatic events a human being can suffer, and for many, it is also an unrecoverable economic blow. Predictably, President Joe Biden was quick to act, declaring a state of emergency that pours federal tax dollars into a rescue and relief effort. This will be followed up by aid from FEMA, a tortuous experience at best but one that will help at least some residents of affected areas repair the damage. Yet many won’t be able to rebuild: for some, insurance payments will go straight to the bank to repay mortgages on homes that no longer exist; for others, the process will be too slow and too expensive, and they will be forced to move to other communities.
So our hearts are with the people of Kentucky: I only wish the hearts, and minds, of Kentucky’s Senators would fully engage with the reality of what their constituents are suffering from.
I Had to Share:
Either the editors at the Kansas City Star are not paying attention, or they are having some fun at the expense of Josh “Haulin’ Ass” Hawley. This image alone makes today’s newsletter worth sharing.
Republicans insist that they support parents forced to give birth to children they can’t afford, but we know: they don’t want to! And they won’t! And they will offer up complex, bullshit programs that do not cover the expense of having a child. Here is the GOP plan that has the most traction on Capitol Hill right now, according to Bryce Covert at The Nation. “[Florida Senator Marco] Rubio’s proposal would allow new parents to borrow up to three months of their future Social Security benefits to cover the cost of parental leave. To make the plan cost neutral, it requires those parents to later pay the money back by either having their payments reduced or by working longer,” Covert writes. “If they died before they reached retirement, their estates would have to pay the money back. It would only apply to parents who have at least two years of prior work history—excluding full-time stay-at-home parents, as well as young ones who have just started working—and wouldn’t come with any job protection, which means anyone who isn’t covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act for unpaid leave would be at risk of getting fired if they used the benefit to take time off from work.” (July 29, 2022)
Suppose you are enjoying the experience of watching Bennie Thompson (D MI-2) chair the J6 committee. In that case, you have to thank Jim Clyburn (SC-06), the House Democratic whip and highest ranking Black congressman. A prominent Democratic power broker, Clyburn has also encouraged, pushed, and prodded talented Black Americans into politics, creating an influential network that reaches well beyond his state. Yet his liberal convictions and ability to bend the party towards them have often put him at odds with the party’s left wing. “To a rising generation of activists,” writes Time’s stellar political reporter Molly Ball, “Clyburn’s penchant for incrementalism and backroom dealing represents complicity with an intolerable status quo at a moment when urgency is required.” (July 28, 2022)
The Kansas state constitution currently protects the right to choose to end a pregnancy, but anti-abortion forces want to change that. The “Value Them Both” amendment is yet another deceptive ballot initiative that hopes to end abortion by essentially tricking voters into authorizing the state legislature to take away their rights. To be clear: Kansas already restricts abortion, but under current laws, the procedure is possible up to 22 weeks, and the state is an oasis surrounded by Dobbs states. “But as many of its neighboring states have all but outlawed abortion,” Grace Segars writes at The New Republic, “Kansas and its four remaining abortion clinics represent a safe harbor of access in a sea of restrictions.” Click here to see all the places where abortion is on the ballot. (July 27, 2022)