Although climate change is perhaps the most serious threat to our future, the fact that most people have viewed this threat as distant and uncertain has made it difficult to rally support for policy responses. But climate scientists have now published evidence linking global warming to the recent explosive growth of extreme weather around the globe—floods here, droughts there, and rapidly rising average temperatures. The United States, for example, has just recorded the hottest 12-month period on record, and much of the nation is wracked by extreme drought.
As long as climate change remained a distant, abstract threat in the public mind, Paul Ryan and other leading Republican climate-change skeptics paid no political price for insisting that global warming needn’t be taken seriously. Now, with the realities of climate change staring voters in the face, that free pass is in jeopardy. The vivid immediacy of today’s extreme weather has created an opportunity to hold climate change skeptics accountable for their obstructionism.
President Obama and his surrogates should travel to Paul Ryan’s own drought-ravaged district in Wisconsin to remind voters that both members of the Republican ticket are avowed climate-change skeptics. Ryan, who has received substantial financial support from the Koch brothers, the most politically aggressive of all climate-change denialists, has voted consistently for their policy agenda. He voted against allowing the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. He voted to prevent the Department of Agriculture from preparing for extreme weather emergencies like the drought that has destroyed this year’s crops in the Midwest. He voted to eliminate White House climate change advisers. And he voted to eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency at the Department of Energy. Those votes attracted little scrutiny when climate change seemed a remote threat. It would be interesting to see the public’s reaction to them now.