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The Weather Doesn't Care if You Believe in Climate Change.
Two Heads Are Not Better Than One
It’s hot. I know, I get that it’s summer in Texas, but it’s so hot that even Texans are complaining about the heat. You want to know how hot it is? When the highs dropped from the low 100s into the high 90s, the news referred to it as a “cold snap,” and they weren’t kidding even a little. It’s so hot that the heat has completely overwhelmed the A/C going full blast on school buses. It made national news when a buoy off the tip of Florida measured the water at close to 100 degrees. People joked that the Gulf of Mexico had turned into a hot tub. In Texas, we call that room temperature. It’s hot is what I’m saying.
You want to know how hot it is? When oil went bust in the ‘80s, a common bumper sticker in Texas read, “Please God, give me one more oil boom. This time I promise not to piss it away.” Yesterday I caught myself daydreaming about Ice Storm Uri, which plunged Texas into an ice age in 2021, leaving millions of Texans without electricity, heat, and running water for a week. Can you imagine, a whole week of wearing sweaters and coats and knit caps? Heaven.
You know how it feels when you bend over to open a hot oven and get a blast of hot air in your face? It’s like that all the time just being outside. It’s so hot that the other day S and I walked out of a perfectly air-conditioned building to walk to our car that was parked a mile away. The sun hurt our skin, and the heat sat on our shoulders like dead weight. “We’re gonna make it,” I assured S, “because lying down on this hot sidewalk would just about kill me.” It’s so hot. Make it stop.
It’s so hot that I drink water all day long but am constantly thirsty. The heat is making me feel doomed, and apparently I’m not the only one. Psychiatrists have identified a summer version of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Summer SAD makes some feel agitated. Some people get insomnia and lose appetite. The summer even makes some suicidal.
But before we talk about how hot it is, I need to tell you about Lefty and Poncho, a two-headed rat snake.
My older son, the Wildlife and Fishery Science graduate, says two-headed snakes are not uncommon. What happens is the snake embryo starts to split into identical snake babies and then stops, creating the slithering equivalent of conjoined twins. The cool thing is that each head is a different being. The not-so-cool thing is that they don’t know they are sharing a tail, so if attacked, they’re likely as not to try to go in two different directions. Their life expectancies are short. When it comes to snakes, two heads are definitely not better than one.
It’s common for them to injure themselves, or more accurately for the lead snake to hurt the weaker one by unintentionally bonking it on a rock or something when its going off on its merry, if unaware, way. That’s sort of what happened with Poncho and Lefty, a two-headed rat snake in a zoo near Waco. Lefty, the left one, used to be the dominant snake, but one day Poncho must have gotten a head of steam because Lefty’s neck got badly injured. So it was off to the snake hospital for a couple years for Poncho and Lefty.
I thought of Poncho and Lefty and their busted neck when I saw this headline:
I can understand a lot. My mother always insisted that I was a smart boy, and my teachers often if not consistently attested to my above-averageness. And I get that our political system is under court supervision because of the ruling in I Know You Are v But What am I, so “things” aren’t always going to “make sense.”
But finding political divides in opinions about the weather flummoxes me. That’s like saying there are two sides to gravity. Think what you want, but when you trip you’re still going to fall on your butt. Asking someone their opinion on extreme weather is as silly as asking me if I think the Orioles beat the White Sox when the scoreboard says they lost 10-5. Much as I’d like to think my opinion mattered, the scoreboard has the final word.
The weather doesn’t care whether you believe that global warming is real and caused by burning fossil fuels. Scientists have run the numbers. It’s real, and regardless of what you believe, when I get into the car after work, the thermometer in the dash is going to register north of 100 degrees. It’s so damn hot.
The irrelevance of popular opinion on meteorological phenomena aside, some of these opinions nevertheless shock and awe. Warning: If you read further, your gob will be smacked.
It’s so damn hot.
Only a third of Republicans think climate change is a factor in extremely hot days. Really? Because the hottest month in human history would like a word. It gets worse: 6% fewer American adults than four years ago now think global warming is a factor in the weather report turning into preheating instructions. By a similar percentage, Americans are more likely to believe that “human activity is not causing the climate to change.” A third of Americans think the news media is exaggerating the seriousness of global warming, up from 24% four years ago. The world’s getting hotter, and we’re getting dumber.
That trend is likely to continue, at least in Texas where the State Board of Education, an elected body that includes a lawyer for Shell Oil Co. and the CEO of an oil-field services company, changed the rules on how climate science should be taught. Previously, Texas was one of only a few states that didn’t require any climate science to be taught, so the state education agency changed its policy to allow that.
The proposed policy, though, held that fossil fuels were warming the planet, and that, thought SBOE member Pat Hardy, was too “negative.”
“Our schools are paid for by the fossil fuel industry for the most part, so there’s a little bit of disingenuousness,” she said. Working with a coalition of oil and gas companies, she wrote up rules about how this policy should be interpreted teaching the “positive” impacts of the energy industry as well.
“You avoid bias by — if it’s a controversial subject — giving both sides,” she said. “You wouldn’t just be presenting both sides.”
The world’s getting hotter, and we’re getting dumber.
There’s no “he said, she said” to Southern California being hit by its first tropical storm in 80 years. You can’t present both sides to Hurricane Idalia. There aren’t two sides to the wildfires in Maui. There’s only a body count.
The sad thing is that the matter is not in doubt, nor is the threat unclear. It’s an easy leadership layup, but the Republican Party is so beholden to know-nothingism and funded by oil and gas money that its leaders are prevented from acknowledging reality.
If we’re going to find a bright spot, it’s that global warming is at least entering the discussion. In 2016, candidate Trump called climate change a Chinese hoax and “bullshit.” His presidential debates with Hillary Clinton covered her emails and his sex tape with a Miss Universe, but not a single question on climate change. But it’s not like Trump ignored the issue as president: In 2019 he proposed a unique solution to extreme weather — nuking hurricanes. In 2020, a climate question actually came up in that chaotic debate against Joe Biden in which Trump acknowledged that pollution caused global warming, but only “to an extent.”
That was the Algonquin Roundtable compared to the recent Republican presidential debate where for the first time Republican presidential candidates were asked in a primary setting, “Do you believe human behavior is causing climate change?” Because it implicitly accepts the existence of climate change and because it was asked in a Republican debate on Fox News, that question represents progress.
“Do you believe human behavior is causing climate change?”
The answer, however, represents regression. Ron DeSantis tried to dodge the question before Vivek Ramaswamy, who is probably causing many immigrant parents to question the value of higher education and business success, stole the show:
“I’m the only person on the stage who isn't bought and paid for, so I can say this, the climate change agenda is a hoax,” he said as the crowd erupted in boos because he’d slandered the rest of the field. “The climate change agenda is a hoax and we have to declare independence. And the reality is the anti-carbon agenda is the wet blanket on our economy. And so the reality is more people are dying of bad climate change policies than they are of actual climate change.”
Bret Baier, the Fox News co-moderator who had just made history by asking a non-horrible climate question, took the bait: “Governor Haley, are you bought and paid for?”
It’s so, so hot.
Nikki Haley denied she was bought and sold, but at least she admitted that climate change exists. Tim Scott first said he was “absolutely” and then, when requestioned, “absolutely not” bought and paid for before saying, “Going back and forth is not helpful to the American people to decide the leader of our country.”
The hope, should we still seek it, can be found in the children, or at least the ones who look like children to the geriatric set currently running the country. When we say that Republicans are impeding progress on climate change, we have to put an asterisk on it and point out a generational divide.
However, the disparities on the MAGA issues driving the early 2024 debate are immense. Protecting access to clean air and water, for example, is about as important to younger Republicans as preserving traditional values is for older ones. In fact, for younger Republicans — protecting the environment is more important than protecting 2A rights and securing our borders.
Poncho and Lefty are back in their habitat at the zoo, all healed up, except now Poncho, the right snake, is the dominant one, dragging Lefty all over the place. Here’s hoping they figure it out. Maybe they will show us how to create a governing coalition that agrees that climate change is real and that we’re causing it. But until then, I’m stuck feeling like a climate refugee if I have to be outside for longer than five minutes. It’s hot, is what I’m saying. It’s so, so hot.
Jason Stanford is a co-author of NYT-best selling Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth. His bylines have appeared in the Washington Post, Time, and Texas Monthly, among others. Email him at email@example.com.
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