The GOP’s Achilles Heel

by Glenn Scherer

Though some may find the forecast far-fetched, global warming could prove fatal to the GOP this November – or in the near future. Why? A large majority of Americans now say unequivocally that the whiplash weather bringing drought, deluge and scorching heat mostly to Red States over the past two years, was intensified by global warming, according to a new study.

Meanwhile, Republican congressional hopefuls and Mitt Romney have hitched their election bids to climate change skepticism, siding with Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe who calls global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

The American people however are now personally seeing that the hoax may all be on the climate change denier side. By a margin of over 2 to 1 (52% vs. 22%), they say that U.S. weather – including heat waves, droughts and severe rainstorms – has been getting worse, rather than better, in recent years according to in-depth research by Yale and George Mason universities.

More importantly, Americans say extreme weather is adding to local hardships, including harm to crops (46%), damage from floods (39%), and problems with air quality (38%), forest fires (34%), water quality (31%), and transportation (23%), says the study.

This year’s weather trends could further erode voter patience with the GOP. This March, the nation shattered over 15,000 heat records in a single month. And more scorchers are likely on the way, with above normal temperatures predicted across most of the nation through November, says the U.S. Climate Prediction Center. Worse, nearly two thirds of the country – 39 states – is already experiencing drought this spring (usually a wet time), as we head into the dry dog days of summer, says the U.S. Drought Monitor.

These trends, if continued, could lead to an extreme summertime heat and drought emergency, making Republican candidates sweat out their electoral bids as they try to defend their belligerent climate change denial records.

Especially susceptible is their argument that global warming will cost more to fix long term, than the economic damage it is already doing. American commerce and communities were slammed with record economic losses due to weather disasters last year – including tornado-ravaged Joplin, Missouri and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the decimated Texas cattle herds, millions of acres of drowned farmland along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, and the heat scorched Southern peanut crop.

The U.S. endured a jaw-dropping 14 major weather disasters in 2011, each costing $1 billion or more in damages, totaling $53 billion. Extreme weather is now increasing prices on everything from beef, to cotton clothing, and peanut butter. Add to that the tragic loss of human life, and the on-the-ground impacts of climate change are becoming hard for voters to ignore.

Of more concern to Republican candidates: About half of Americans (51%) now believe that extreme weather will cause a natural disaster in their own community in the next year, bringing loss of life, water shortages, wildfires, damage to crops and other hardships.

If the global warming public opinion pendulum swings decisively against Republicans in this election – or at the midterms or in 2016, it leaves the GOP with little maneuverability. With the party’s purse strings tightly tied to big oil, coal, and natural gas interests, the Grand Old Party cannot change its position on climate change without taking a huge hit to campaign coffers.

Strangely, the more climate change evidence has become irrefutable, the more Republican politicians have entrenched against it, and the shriller their position has become. With 97 percent of all scientists now saying that global warming is happening and human-caused, according to the National Academy of Sciences, and with the weather proving out that assertion, the die is cast.

It could prove a long hot summer – and century – for Red State Republicans heading home to campaign with constituents whose lives are being made miserable, and whose economic fortunes are being ruined, by scorching temperatures, drought, deluge, and waves of tornadoes.

Blue Ridge Press senior editor Glenn Scherer lives in Vermont. ©Blue Ridge Press 2012.

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