Sargent: The Flat-Earth Five

Published August 15, 2013 2:19 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

By Greg Sargent

The Washington Post

It's long been a source of frustration for environmentalists that expressions of rank climate denialism are nowhere near as politically toxic as crazy comments about abortion, birth control or immigration. Climate denialism is not met with the widespread condemnation that greets the sort of statements on immigration and abortion you hear from the likes of Steve King or Todd Akin.

Environmentalists are engaged in a long-term campaign to change that.

Case in point: The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) is investing real money — $2 million — in a TV ad campaign targeting a handful of Republican lawmakers for their climate denialism.

An ad targeting Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin invokes extreme weather and the climate-change consensus among scientists, and rips Johnson as a "climate change denier" who won't act to prevent the continued "spewing" of carbon pollution.

The campaign is also targeting three GOP congressmen: Reps. Dan Benishek of Michigan, Rodney Davis of Illinois and Mike Coffman of Colorado. In the last cycle, the group spent $3 million more on ads targeting what it called the "Flat Earth Five" — a group of Republican members of Congress who also deny climate change.

What's interesting about the targeting of Johnson is that he isn't up for re-election until 2016, which is to say this isn't about electoral politics. Environmentalists are aware that Johnson is unlikely to pay any immediate price for his denialism. Indeed, Johnson is brandishing LCV's attacks as a kind of tea party badge of honor, citing them in a fundraising appeal that calls for donations to fight back against "an extreme left group on an environmental jihad."

But environmentalists see this as a long game. Right now, the prospects for congressional action on the climate are bleak, and the only hope for action probably rests on whatever Obama can do via executive authority. In the near term, environmentalists and Democrats have no choice but to do whatever they can to generate media discussion of the issue. Obama's political arm, Organizing for Action, is also targeting deniers in Congress, and as Steve Benen noted, the real goal here is to give progressives something to organize around.

Attacks on Republican officials over climate change are part of this strategy to bait them into high-profile exchanges over the issue that will likely command media coverage.

Making elected officials pay a steep political price for climate denialism may seem a long way off, but perhaps environmentalists can muscle the issue into the political discussion.

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