He’s been named the world’s number-one conservative idiot by left-wing bloggers. European protesters have stuck his mug on “Wanted” posters for calling man-made global warming a “hoax.” And the mainstream media has consistently ridiculed him as an ornery Archie Bunker type, calling him, among other things, “the noisiest climate skeptic in the U.S.” (Bloomberg), “banged on the head too many times” (Garrison Keillor), and, most colorfully, “the Senate’s resident denier bunny,” who “thinks global warming is debunked every time he drinks a slushy and gets a brain freeze” (Jon Stewart).
The target of these barbs is the Senate’s resident climate skeptic: Sen. James Inhofe. After two decades in Congress, he tells me he’s used to the knocks. In fact, the Oklahoma Republican, who last week turned 75, actually enjoys the sparring, especially this week, after thousands of embarrassing e-mails from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England were leaked. In the exchanges, top climate scientists strategize on how best to “hide the decline” of global warming and hash out tactics for bullying skeptics away from publishing in leading journals.
The CRU has long been a nerve center of global-warming research, spoon-feeding Chicken Little numbers to climate-change activists and governmental organizations such as the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose own furrowed-brow reports have heavily influenced policy at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Since the e-mail scandal broke, Phil Jones, the CRU chief, has resigned.
At least the Brits know how to bow out after a bit of tomfoolery. On this side of the pond — surprise, surprise — the Obama administration, whose green ties run deep, has no plans to scale down its efforts for massive new regulations based on increasingly questionable climate-change science. John Holdren, Obama’s science adviser (and former CRU buddy-list member), says that despite the kerfuffle, the “science is proper, and this is about a small fraction of research on the issue.”
“Years ago, that kind of a response would be the end of the story,” says Inhofe. “I could raise any number of questions and they’d just be ignored by the press. Now, since these e-mails have come out, I’m not the only one raising questions. Everyone is skeptical of them.” He laughs: “I guess misery loves company.”
“When I called anthropogenic global warming a hoax in 2003, while in Milan for the U.N.’s climate-change negotiations, people said I was nuts,” says Inhofe. “These e-mails show, however, that this is a hoax being perpetuated not just by the far-left extremists like George Soros, Michael Moore, and the Hollywood elite, but by the scientists. Their agenda is not just to stop America’s progress but to hide the data. It’s just an extraordinary and unfortunate situation.”
Inhofe, who still drives a gas-guzzling ’87 Cadillac, says real pushback, not anger, is what’s needed in Congress. He’s pushing for a full-fledged investigation into the matter and has already asked many of the scientists involved, such as Penn State’s Michael Mann, to save all their e-mails. Eventually, he says, he’d like to hold hearings on the Hill and look into all aspects of the scandal.
On Wednesday, Lisa Jackson, Obama’s EPA administrator, came to testify before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, where Inhofe serves as ranking member. He asked Jackson to suspend any projects that might be based on CRU data. Jackson was tight-lipped as Inhofe and other GOP senators read damning e-mails aloud, responding only that she hopes “EPA scientists would spend their time working on science and working in a more collegial manner.”
Inhofe says such assurances aren’t enough. Yet in order to start a Senate investigation, he’ll need to gain the support of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), chairwoman of the EPW committee. For now, Boxer is waiting to see if the issue will die down. She keeps calling the CRU story a “criminal” matter, since the e-mails were stolen.
Boxer “is saying these things out of desperation,” says Inhofe. “They’re all on record supporting the EPA’s endangerment finding, which, thanks to the flawed IPCC report, is now discredited, so they have to try and divert attention away and focus on the way in which the hacking took place. Look, I don’t condone the way these e-mails were acquired, but that’s no reason to block an investigation when so many taxpayer dollars are potentially going to be used to fund policy based on junk science.”
Support for such an investigation is growing gradually, says Inhofe. “I’m talking to my fellow senators in conferences and steering committees. All they want to talk about is health care. I want to do that too, but I don’t want this to be shoved aside, either. Health care is not the only thing going on. I’m working on keeping them focused on this as an issue.”