Do Republican members of Congress actually disbelieve in climate change and want to cut funding for medical research? Or are they just doing the bidding of their donors and the hard-line members of their base?
On Feb 26th, 2015, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Ok) referred to climate change as a hoax and tossed a snowball on the senate floor to demonstrate his rejection of the phenomenon. Many other Republican officeholders have vehemently denied the existence of climate change and the significant role of human activity in causing it. Despite the 97% consensus among scientists that humans are the cause of global warming, many conservatives tend to ignore these scientific arguments so as to appeal to their target constituents and campaign funders. This type of ignorance and obstruction of scientific research is also seen in investments in energy and in the funding allocations to agencies such as National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Senator Inhofe, who is also chairman of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, wrote a book called “The Greatest Hoax” strongly criticizing believers in climate change. According to a study by CAP Action, 56 percent of Republicans in the 114th Congress deny or question the science behind human-caused climate change. If left uncontrolled, climate change could have catastrophic effects on the environment, including causing the extinction of many species, contributing to more frequent droughts and tropical storms, and seeing sea level increases. Considering these dire threats from climate change, the question arises of why Republican officeholders keep rejecting this natural phenomenon for which so much evidence exists? Well, the answer could be found by looking at the sources of their campaign funding and beliefs of their constituents.
CAP Action also released the sources of campaign funding of these climate change deniers, and it was revealed that the 39 climate deniers in the Senate have taken more than $28 million in donations from the coal, oil, and gas industries, while the 131 House climate deniers have taken more than $35 million. In contrast, all other members of Congress combined have taken less from the coal, oil, and gas industries than just the House climate deniers. As for their base of constituents, a study by The Guardian revealed that only 15% of conservative Republicans believe climate change is caused primarily by human activity. For many Republicans in Congress, sticking to the “dirty money” provided by the fossil fuel industry means re-election.
The same anti-science attitude was also on display during the debate surrounding President Trump’s first budget in March. The proposed budget called for double digit cuts in funding of for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which both play essential roles in tackling respectively difficult crises such as energy and cancer. According to an article published in Nature, President Trump’s proposed budget called for massive cuts for NIH, which could have had direct impacts on cancer research. Cancer research is desperately needed and according to government data, approximately 40% of Americans will be diagnosed with at least one type of cancer in their lifetimes. For the five most common cancers diagnosed in adults, the 5-year survival rates are: breast, 75%; prostate, 69%; lung, 13%; colorectal, 51%; and bladder, 74%. Cancer is taking a massive toll on Americans, which could be significantly reduced if cancer research funding is sufficient in the coming years. Funding cuts for scientific research can benefit Republican politicians by allowing them to tout that they are slashing taxes and keeping the government small.
When it comes to energy, the Trump administration hopes to cut 5.6%, or $1.7 billion, from the Department of Energy (DOE), which would lead to slashing of $900 million, or about 20%, from the department’s Office of Science. This arm of the department supports research on topics such as high-energy physics, energy, climate change and biology. During the Obama administration, this department invested massive amounts of money on renewable energy.
The Republican effort to cut funding for scientific research or climate-related issues significantly serves their re-election prospects and reflects the demands of their largest donors. However, this comes at the cost of imperiling future generations by subjecting them to environmental risks and prevents investment in medical research that has the potential to save so many lives.
Kamyar Yazdani is a student at Duke University.