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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

GOP Presidential Candidates, Science, and Reality

By Phil Plait

It’s time to not only face facts, but to call them out, too: This cohort of Republican presidential candidates isn’t exactly a brain trust.

Every time I see an article about something one of the GOP contenders has said, I’m stunned at just how much lower they can sink. It’s as if they’re scrambling on purpose to brag about the dumbest possible thing they can come up with.

Think I’m exaggerating? Here are some choice examples of ideas that have come out of the mouth holes of the remaining viable candidates:

None of this stuff is exactly rocket science … but when it comes to climate science, not a single one of these people is even close to planet Earth. They’re in their own alternate reality where up is down and, I suppose literally, hot is cold.

Let’s do a quick rundown of where they all stand:

I’ve been railing against the GOP’s party plank on climate change for years now, so none of this is surprising. But it’s upsetting. I disagree with almost all of the stances of the Republican Party these days, but in the past they at least used to embrace science. Now, though, if one of their candidates says the Sun will rise in the East, I’d lay better odds on the Earth’s rotation having reversed.

This stunning intellectual deficit, whether real or pandering, is wholly the fault of the party itself (and, to an extent, the American public for letting it slide this far). The abject dismissal of reality has become more and more mainstream in the party politicians, and its power soared upward like a hockey stick graph when the Tea Party gained congressional seats in the in 2010 election.

The fallout from this is as fascinating as it is maddening. For example, the Heartland Institute—or as I think of it, the Mos Eisley of think tanks—attacked the pope on his climate change stance, and even a Catholic congress person boycotted the pope’s speech. The internal paradoxes in the minds of these folks must be incredibly turbulent.

More examples can be easily found from other conservative groups. But there’s a glimmer of hope, a glimpse of the path back to reality for the GOP. As the pope showed, religious belief doesn’t necessarily lead to rejecting science; one need only look to outspoken climatologist and Christian evangelist Katharine Hayhoe for that as well. This reveals an underlying aspect of all this that seems to be forgotten: Belief in conservative principles doesn’t lead inevitably to the denial of science.

Conservative political parties in other countries don’t necessarily deny global warming either. It’s only endemic to the GOP. And while funding from the über-far-right Koch brothers clearly affects the way politicians vote in the U.S., not all wealthy donors are the same; Republican businessman Jay Faison has put the incredible sum of $175 million on the table to invest in climate-change–accepting Republican politicians.

The response to that was as predictable as rising temperatures: James “Snow disproves global warming” Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, denounced it. Of course he did; Inhofe is so far removed from reality he actually thinks the pope wasn’t discussing climate change in front of Congress.

I can make a laundry list of problematic GOP planks, but global warming is perhaps the single biggest threat facing humanity today. Faison’s move is a step forward, even if it makes some deniers froth and fume. Their staunch denial may yet lead to political extinction: A majority of Republican voters acknowledge the reality of global warming, and humanity’s role in it. That’s hopeful indeed.

And to those who still deny it, I’ll note that it’s better to take the carrot than the stick: Some people are proposing siccing the RICO Act on corporations actively suppressing global warming and climate change information. This isn’t fringe stuff; an investigation into Exxon revealed they allegedly knew about the threat of global warming for 40 years, yet still funded misinformation campaigns about it. Fossil fuel interests use the same tactics employed by the tobacco industry to downplay harm, and it was the RICO Act that brought those same tobacco companies low.

I’d rather not see things go this far, of course, but that’s the world we now live in: a planet that needs saving from those who would actively burn it down. And that, in sum, accurately describes the current crop of GOP presidential candidates.

Perhaps most sad is that it needn’t be this way. Republicans are supposed to be conservatives. Isn’t it about time they started conserving?

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the 2016 campaign.

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