Ignorance for a Price: How The Fossil Fuel Industry Pays Politicians To Doubt Science

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One year ago, 68% of American citizens believed that climate change was real. Today, that number has jumped to 76%, according to a new poll by UT Energy. That shift is not surprising, considering the record-breaking temperatures and widespread droughts and weather disruptions that have occurred in the last 12 months.

But what is most surprising about this new poll is the shift in attitudes of Republican voters.

In March of this year, less than half of Republicans (47%) believed that climate change was real. Today, the UT Energy poll shows that 59% of Republicans believe in climate change, an increase of 12 points in just 7 months.

These poll numbers are for the public at large, so what happens when we look at a small percentage of Americans, perhaps the members of Congress? Those numbers look quite different from their constituents’ views.

According to Think Progress, 53% of Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives deny the existence of climate change, and 70% of the Republicans in the Senate are climate change deniers.

The question at this point is why the disparity? All parties – the public and our elected officials – have access to the same information, so why are members of Congress more likely than the general public to deny climate change? The answer is fairly obvious: The public isn’t receiving money from the fossil fuel industry.

As Open Secrets reports, the oil & gas industries have pumped more than $36 million into the upcoming 2016 elections, with 93% of that money going to Republicans. In 2014, that total was $64 million, and 87% went to Republicans. In 2012, a presidential election year, the amount from these two industries topped $76 million, with 89% going into the campaign coffers of Republicans.

The coal industry is also a major player in American politics, and for 2016, 2014, and 2012, the industry donated $2 million, $11 million, and $15 million, respectively, with an average of 94% of that money going to Republicans.

This money buys so much more than political favors. Yes, it has given them the ability to drill in areas that were previously off limits and it has prevented countless new carbon reduction proposals from taking place, but something far more dangerous has been purchased with this campaign money: The dirty energy industry is paying our elected officials to remain ignorant.

When you look at the science behind climate change, there’s no way to deny what’s happening around the planet. And with reports showing us that taking action will end up saving us trillions of dollars in economic costs, it makes absolutely no sense for members of Congress to continue to refuse to do anything about the problem. Imagine if the industry weren’t allowed to pour money into political campaigns and it becomes fairly obvious that these science-denying politicians would likely end their obstructionist ways because they have no reason not to.

The bottom line is that money is corrupting our politicians in more ways than we can count, and the ignorance that we’re seeing from Congress today is evidence that corporate money is making our elected officials stupid.

Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine, and his articles have appeared on The Huffington Post, Alternet, and The Progressive Magazine. He has worked for the Ring of Fire radio program with hosts Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Mike Papantonio, and Sam Seder since August 2004, and is currently the co-host and producer of the program. He also currently serves as the co-host of Ring of Fire on Free Speech TV, a daily program airing nightly at 8:30pm eastern. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009.  Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced.

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