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Why can’t Greg Abbott accept man-made climate change?

March 9, 2019

Why can’t Gov. Greg Abbott accept that man-made climate change is real?

He has said this is because he is not a scientist, but I think the better answer can be found in his response to Jade Helm back in 2015.

Confronted with hysteria from fringe groups about the routine military exercise in Texas, Abbott notified the Texas State Guard to monitor the federal military operation. As we later learned, the hysteria about rounding up political dissidents and instituting martial law was fueled by Russian bots and alt-right media.

In a position to squash these rumors, Abbott instead chose a painfully passive course. He didn’t endorse the conspiracy theory, but he sure didn’t shut it down. In the view of Michael Hayden, the former head of the CIA and National Security Agency, Abbott fanned the flames for future Russian meddling in U.S. affairs.

“At that point, I’m figuring the Russians are saying, ‘We can go big time,’” Hayden said in a 2018 interview. “At that point, I think they made the decision, ‘We’re going to play in the electoral process.’”

I’m not willing to pin widespread Russian electoral meddling on one poor decision by the governor. But when Abbott fails to acknowledge man-made climate change, my mind often drifts back to his response to Jade Helm and the obvious political parallels. In a position to do more, he did less. In a position to embrace mainstream consensus, he played to a fringe base despite the potential larger repercussions. He valued the the voices of skeptics over the experts.

It’s a particularly cynical brand of politics. After all, Abbott’s résumé says he should know better. This is a former Texas Supreme Court justice. A longtime attorney general. A dynamic governor with a compelling personal story and a deep love for Texas.

He is arguably the state’s most popular politician. The Blue Wave didn’t even get his toes wet. He won re-election by 13 points in 2018. No other statewide officeholder can say that. And while this popularity shows he is doing something right on the issues that are important to most Texas voters, it also suggests he has political capital to spend. That he could move the needle on climate change for Republicans and urge others to embrace the science and honor the public concern. In short, to be a leader.

Too often, though, he follows. Too often, he panders to fringe voters on the right. On Jade Helm. On voter fraud. On border insecurity. And, of course, on climate change.

“Listen, I’m not a scientist,” he said in December following the release of a report about how to mitigate future severe weather akin to Hurricane Harvey. The kind of weather scientists expect more of in a warming world.

Leading climate scientists have offered to brief the governor about man-made climate change, but to no avail. In other words, he’s given proponents of the Jade Helm conspiracy greater consideration than leading climate scientists about a real global catastrophe.

Those scientists might tell the governor that Texas is vulnerable to man-made climate change. They might speak about the scientific consensus and the predictions that come with a warming world. How Texans will experience prolonged droughts, extreme heat, hardship in the agriculture sector, decreased water supply in the Edwards Aquifer and coastal flooding by 2030.

Abbott is not a scientist, but he could listen to scientists. He could honor their expertise and the devastation and toll extreme weather has taken on this state. He could celebrate Texas as more than capable of facing the challenges of a warming world. A state rich in natural gas and tops in the nation in wind energy production. A state that could do so much more with solar energy production. He could frame our leading universities as pioneers in developing new technologies to mitigate climate change.

What if he said he could see the long-term consequences of inaction on your children and grandchildren?

Conservative talk radio might freak, but it’s not such an outlandish view. Recent polling from Yale University and George Mason University found 69 percent of Americans are either “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about climate change.

This isn’t some crazy conspiracy, and maybe that’s the problem.

jbrodesky@express-news.net

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