Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt has proposed the creation of a “national commission led by men and women of impeccable credentials” to determine whether and how the U.S. should address climate change, arguing that the country needs a group of “[d]iverse, smart non-scientists who are going to listen to the scientists -- all of them -- and report back on what ought to be done.” However, any credibility that Hewitt’s proposal may have had disappeared instantly when he suggested that the commission include Rush Limbaugh, a vocal climate science denier and conspiracy theorist who is among the least likely people imaginable to “listen to the scientists.”
Hewitt proposed the commission in a February 9 op-ed in The Washington Post, in which he asserted that “we don’t know enough” about the cost of addressing climate change or “the nature of the risk.” He also declared, “We are told so many things about climate change, in a conclusory and often condescending fashion. As a result, both the town criers of apocalypse and the town cynics who wear a never-ending sneer have lost the ability to be heard by, much less move, the center.”
Those claims themselves are dubious -- there is a wealth of research from both governmental and non-governmental organizations about the risks posed by climate change, and lumping proponents of climate action together with (often fossil fuel industry-funded) climate science deniers is false balance 101. But even if Hewitt is correct that a commission of non-scientists could help move the climate conversation forward, his proposal can’t be taken seriously when he suggests the commission include Limbaugh, simply because it ought to include “luminaries of left and right” and Limbaugh has created one of the “largest audiences of the past 30 years.”
Limbaugh has long been a promoter of some of the most over-the-top and fringiest climate science denial and climate-related conspiracy theories. Among other things, Limbaugh concocted a conspiracy theory that the federal government was overstating Hurricane Matthew’s severity in order to manufacture concern about climate change; claimed that NASA’s announcement that it found water on Mars was part of a climate change conspiracy; and distorted a study from Duke University, claiming it shows that “there isn't any [global] warming going on.” For Hewitt to believe that Limbaugh belongs on a climate change commission requires a willful ignorance of Limbaugh’s long track record of climate science denial and overt disdain for science and scientists.
From Hewitt’s February 9 op-ed in the Post:
Imagine, if you will, an August 2017 Post headline: “McChrystal Commission report surprises, energizes and outrages.” The first paragraph reads:
“The much-anticipated and closely guarded final report of the McChrystal Commission on Climate Change released Tuesday shook nearly every interest and player in the capital. The commission, headed by retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal and including such luminaries of left and right as Oprah Winfrey and Rush Limbaugh and such captains of industry as Bill Gates and Peter Thiel, kept its work secret and its executive summary short and accessible. President Trump tweeted: “THANK YOU General McChrystal and colleagues. Great work. All must read and think on your report carefully!”
This is a not-yet-established commission, of course, and I don’t know whether the remarkable McChrystal would agree to lead it or if Trump would empanel it. I only know the country needs such a body, just as it needed the National Commission for Social Security Reform more than three decades ago.
[The “insurance policy” theory of combating climate change is] a good argument — but only an argument — because when it comes to climate change, we don’t know enough about the cost of the premium or the nature of the risk. Thus, a national commission led by men and women of impeccable credentials and also populated with visible and controversial opinion leaders of left and right would serve us well. We are told so many things about climate change, in a conclusory and often condescending fashion. As a result, both the town criers of apocalypse and the town cynics who wear a never-ending sneer have lost the ability to be heard by, much less move, the center.
So what, if anything, ought to be done in light of what, if any, significant dangers lurk — especially if either or both of China and India continue on their emissions trajectory? That would render U.S. actions at best noble gestures and at worst moot and economically self-destructive gestures. Yes, I know about the Paris Accord and the “undertakings” of the big emitters but — the key — I don’t trust it or them.
I don’t know who to trust actually on these issues. But I would take very seriously the recommendations of a such a commission, and tens of millions would at least pay attention if it is populated in part by big names from entertainment. Winfrey and Limbaugh built and sustained the two largest audiences of the past 30 years after all. Dismiss them if you will, but only two people have accomplished that. Add on a Sheryl Sandberg if you’d like, provided there was also a Thiel to complement the Facebook chief operating officer. You get the picture: Diverse, smart non-scientists who are going to listen to the scientists — all of them — and report back on what ought to be done.