Is James Inhofe Shilling For God, or Oil? The Correct Answer is “Both”

Is James Inhofe Shilling For God, or Oil? The Correct Answer is “Both”
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Last week, we were treated to one of those facepalm moments that make those of us who care about the future of planet intensely frustrated. Or worse.

Senator James Inhofe, climate conspiracy theorist, was on a Christian radio program talking about his new book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. And here’s what he said (audio at link):

Well actually the Genesis 8:22 that I use in [the book] is that “as long as the earth remains there will be springtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.” My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.

Okay, forget about the biblically-based climate denial for a moment. I’m kind of fascinated by Inhofe’s statement that God is still “up there.” Really? Like, in the sun? Directly over our heads?

Is Inhofe a pre-Copernican as well as a global warming denier? Does he not realize that while “up” might have meant a great deal to Ptolemaic Christians, it has no real significance in the context of modern physics and cosmology?

What’s most frustrating, though, is this bizarre invocation of Scripture to justify the idea that we don’t need to worry about climate change. For those of us who are secular in outlook, it’s not just that this makes no sense. The idea that such sectarian notions—arguments or motivations that cannot be proved by rational argument or discussion with those who do not share Inhofe’s religious premises–could be influencing U.S. policy is, frankly, shocking.

But there’s something weird going on here too, when you think about it. I mean, usually, we tend to think of climate deniers like Inhofe as not driven by religion, but rather, by money or corporate influence. And indeed, reporting on Inhofe’s latest remarks at Think Progress Green, Brad Johnson helpfully added that “In the interview, Inhofe did not mention he has received $1,352,523 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, including $90,950 from Koch Industries.”

So when he denies global warming, is Inhofe trying to appease his campaign funders and the oil and gas industry? Or is he shilling for Jesus? Or are they interchangeable?

This tends out to be an area of endless confusion in U.S. politics, so I want to take this opportunity to address it.

In a prior post here, I wrote about why evolution deniers and climate deniers might be “natural allies,” despite the fact that one form of denial has a religious motivation, whereas the other presumably springs from economic or free market convictions. Now, let me go farther.

In my new book The Republican Brain, I discuss in detail the odd phenomenon of the economic and social right pairing up together, again and again–just as they do in James Inhofe, and just as they do in Rick Santorum. Many have remarked on this strange bedfellows allegiance, which is, after all, the backbone of the current U.S. Republican Party. But it is usually treated as an oddity, a strange contradiction: What do pragmatic businessmen have to do with Bible thumpers? Why does Big Pharma want to be in bed with people who are anti-contraception and anti-stem cell research? And so on.

My contention is that we need to stop thinking of this as a mystery or contradiction, and instead come to view it as psychologically normal. Stop listing all the rational reasons why the allegiance shouldn’t exist, and start thinking about the psychological reasons why it should.

And what are those? Well, start with this figure from a recent paper by Yale political scientist Alan Gerber and his colleagues. Gerber et al are studying the relationship between personality and political views, and what they find is that economic and social conservatives alike are more conscientious, and less open to new experiences. Economic and social liberals alike, meanwhile, are less conscientious, and more open to trying out new ideas and new things.

In other words, economic and social liberals are just as okay with new adventures and experiments in their personal lives as they are with sociopolitical and economic change. Their opponents on both fronts, meanwhile, are much more wedded to stability, in social structures (“the family”), in economic norms (the “free market”), and day to day life alike.

This is, admittedly, only a brief gloss on this issue, and there is much more unpacking in the book. But my contention is that we need to give up on this odd and incoherent game of sometimes describing climate change denial as driven by money, and sometimes as driven by religion—usually fundamentalist.

The two aren’t nearly as distinct as you might think. And the thing that unites us global warming accepters (and separates us from many of our foes) is our willingness to believe that traditional authorities in society—industry, the free market, the church—are just plain wrong about a lot of things….and really could have led us to this desperate point of planetary emergency. 

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