The Top Five Environmental Whoppers of 2009: An Earth Day Retrospective

Created: April 22, 2009 16:54 | Last updated: July 31, 2020 00:00

Since its inception in 1970, Earth Day has catalyzed as much hysteria as it has environmental stewardship. During the holiday’s first half-decade of observance, many Americans, encouraged by a complicit press, fretted over the impending ecological disaster that would result from global cooling. And the very first Earth Day celebration was accused of being a secret Communist plot, falling as it did on the 100th anniversary of Vladimir Lenin’s birth.

While we may laugh at the fallacies of our forebears, revelers in the 40th annual Earth Day cannot claim to live in an era of environmental enlightenment. In fact, the year 2009 has already produced some of the most misinformed, head-scratching statements on the environment ever uttered by our leaders in Washington. For your Earth Day reading pleasure, here are the top five environmental obfuscators of the year:

5. Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio):

Appearing on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, Boehner, the House minority leader, attempted to articulate a GOP approach to climate change. When George Stephanopoulos pressed him on the Republican plan to tackle carbon emissions, he had this to say in response:

“George, the idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you’ve got more carbon dioxide.”

Even if you reject the notion that global warming is man-made, there are still three things wrong with this response, as Joe Romm of Climate Progress points out. First, no one is claiming that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen (in this sense, Boehner is quite right that the idea is “almost comical”). Second, carcinogens are by definition harmful to people, not to the environment. And third, when cows do what Boehner is too bashful to say — i.e., fart — they release methane, which is 22 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. If cows simply flatulated carbon dioxide, the world would be a cooler — and more olfactorily pleasing — place.

4. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.):

What’s worse than Boehner’s error-ridden statements on environmental policy? One top contender: reiterating Boehner’s error-ridden statements after they’ve already been thoroughly and embarrassingly repudiated.

On March 23, Boehner and his fellow House Republicans cited an MIT study to attack President Obama’s cap-and-trade plan as a “light switch tax that would cost every American household $3,128 a year.” But they ran into trouble when John Reilly, an author of the study, complained that they had misinterpreted his numbers. Their allegation of a $3,000 tax was “wrong in so many ways it’s hard to begin,” he told the St. Petersburg Times. In reality, he said, the plan would cost each household about $215 annually. What’s worse, House Republicans had contacted him before releasing their talking points, and they simply chose to ignore his objections to their calculations.

But that didn’t stop Bachmann from perpetuating Boehner’s $3,000 tax myth. On April 8, she wrote an op-ed in the Star Tribune that continued this line of attack:

This time, Reilly didn’t bother to respond.

3. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.):

At a March 25 hearing of the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, Shimkus pointed to historic — or rather, prehistoric — precedent to argue that rising levels of greenhouse gases were not cause for concern:

“Today we have about 388 parts per million [of carbon dioxide] in the atmosphere. I think in the age of the dinosaurs, when we had most flora and fauna, we were probably at 4,000 parts per million. There is a theological debate that this is a carbon-starved planet, not too much carbon.”

Never mind that the age of the dinosaurs might have been less than hospitable to human life. The most perplexing part of his statement was his invocation of theology in a discussion of carbon levels in the atmosphere. But he did us the favor of explaining his reasoning:

“The earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. A man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood. … I do believe that God’s word is infallible. Unchanging. Perfect.”

If the planet’s going down, why not take separation of church and state with it?

2. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas):

It’s a bit disheartening to hear the former Energy and Commerce Committee chairman and its current ranking member admit during a Congressional hearing on climate change legislation, “I’m probably below average in my ability to understand these things.” But when it comes to logic, Barton can’t be beat. Take his opening statement at a hearing on March 25 (incidentally, the same one that brought us Shimkus’ words of wisdom):

“Today’s hearing is about adaptation. Adapting is a common natural way for people to adapt to their environment.”

Irrefutable. He continued:

“I think mankind has been adopting — or adapting — to climate for as long as man has walked the earth. When it rains, we find shelter. When it’s hot, we get shade. When it’s cold, we find a warm place to stay. I think that it’s inevitable that humanity will adapt to global warming. … Adaptation to shifts in temperature is not that difficult.”

And in case his audience was not convinced, he returned to his insuperable brand of logic to prove that adaptation had succeeded in the past:

“During the Little Ice Age, both the Vikings and the British adapted to the cold by changing. I suppose that one possible adaptation response of Viking retrenchment and British expansion is that we’re conducting the hearing today in English instead of Norwegian.”

If that doesn’t convince those darn climate alarmists, I don’t know what will.

1. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele

If the mark of a successful political party is consistency of rhetoric between its leaders and its rank-and-file, the GOP must be very successful indeed. Before the aforementioned House Republicans delivered their peculiar analyses, Steele led the way on March 6 with the biggest climate change whopper of them all:

“We are cooling. We are not warming. The warming you see out there, the supposed warming, and I am using my finger quotation marks here, is part of the cooling process. Greenland, which is now covered in ice, it was once called Greenland for a reason, right? Iceland, which is now green. Oh I love this. Like we know what this planet is all about. How long have we been here? How long? Not very long.”

Ah, the warming is just part of the cooling process. The one they were warning us about during those heady first Earth Day celebrations.

And the madness comes full circle.