WASHINGTON—If Sen. Jim Inhofe was even remotely thinking about adding Mark Hertsgaard's newest book to his reading list, he likely shelved that idea around noon Tuesday.
That's when the independent California journalist and the Republican Oklahoma senator wrapped up a pointed but cordial — and somewhat convoluted — five-minute exchange about global warming.
Hertsgaard is the author of the mid-January release "Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years." He cornered Inhofe near a bank of members-only elevators at the Dirksen Senate Office Building to ask how he could remain the Senate's most adamant climate change denier when every noted scientific organization agrees the planet and its inhabitants are destined for a world of hurt unless heat-trapping gases are tamed.
"Yeah, are you kidding?" he told SolveClimate News when asked if it was worth it to wait 85 minutes in a windowless Dirksen hallway until Inhofe emerged from a fourth-floor committee hearing room. "For my daughter's sake I want to know why he thinks he can do that."
"Hot," the most recent of his six environmental tomes, is dedicated to his 5-year-old daughter Chiara. She has inspired the 54-year-old's fatherly concern toward what he calls Generation Hot, the two billion youngsters worldwide now forced to cope with climate disruption.
Even though it was just 24 hours after Valentine's Day, Hertsgaard didn't come to Capitol Hill expecting to sway hearts — or even minds — on the climate change front. Instead, Tuesday's event to confront "climate cranks" — coordinated by partners including the Sierra Club, 350.org, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and The Nation — offered a lesson to budding activists on staking out politicians and a chance for Hertsgaard to vent.
Throughout the day, the energetic author was trailed by four young local organizers, a couple of communications specialists and three videographers.
"I think he knows his lines," Hertsgaard said about trying to push the envelope with Inhofe. "He should. He's been saying the same thing for 20 years."
Frustration with Media Coverage
During the Hertsgaard encounter, Inhofe offered the same nay-saying spiel he offered the week before at a House subpanel hearing on draft legislation he's behind to stymie the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate carbon emissions. And Matt Dempsey, communications manager for his boss — the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee — backed him up on every point.
But, then again, what did the activists expect when hitting the skeptic jackpot?
For one, Inhofe famously labeled global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." And, last winter he questioned the science further when his family built an igloo and mockingly christened it former Vice President Al Gore’s home after "Snowmageddon" buried the nation’s capital.
Hertsgaard, who has written for the likes of The New Yorker, Time, Vanity Fair, The Nation and Politico and reported for National Public Radio, insists that the "mainstream media" are to blame for giving congressional deniers a pass. On Tuesday, he confronted Inhofe on each of his points about the science being "mixed," the dire impact of carbon controls on the economy and what little difference EPA action will have on global emissions.
"It's important to say, 'No senator, the science is not mixed.' But a lot of mainstream reporters don’t argue back," Hertsgaard said in an interview, adding that a sense of false balance can be attributed to a Washington press corps not familiar with environmental issues. "But virtually every science organization tells us climate change is real and very dangerous. It's a matter of demonstrable science not opinion. To pretend otherwise borders on journalistic malpractice."
Hertsgaard is embarrassed to hail from a country with a political party that denies climate change, adding that European conservative parties argue about policy, not science. Here, he continued, Republicans reject the science because of its political implications — mandatory government regulations imposed economy-wide.
"We're in such a bizarre political bubble in Washington, D.C.," he noted during the brisk walk to Dirksen. "And that wouldn't happen if we didn't have Fox TV amplifying the argument and the mainstream media caving into this false neutrality."
Environmental Dollars in Jeopardy
Organizers chose Tuesday to act because it fit into Hertsgaard's schedule, plus both the House and Senate are in session. However, it also coincides with GOP efforts to cause mischief with the EPA’s 2011 budget.
Congress failed to pass the White House 2011 budget during December’s gridlock, instead opting for a temporary spending bill that operates the government at fiscal 2010 levels through early March. Legislators have until March 4 to craft another continuing resolution to set funding through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. The repercussions are that the government will shut down if House and Senate leaders can’t compromise on funding government for the remainder of the fiscal year.
House Republicans have drawn the ire of the environmental community by not only proposing to whack about $3 billion from EPA’s budget this year but also halting the agency’s efforts to fashion or enforce carbon emissions rules.