The year was 1978. Rick Scott was a 26-year-old Navy veteran and up-and-coming entrepreneur who had bought and revived two Kansas City donut shops. Jeb Bush was a 25-year-old working in the international division of a Texas bank. Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban emigres, was a four-year-old attending kindergarten in Miami. It was the year that Jim Jones's followers committed mass suicide in Guyana and a Pole by the name of Karol Cardinal Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II, but the biggest story passed unnoticed -- publication of a scientific paper by the eminent glaciologist John H. Mercer that made a chilling prediction: The human-driven release of greenhouse gases would be disastrous for the immense West Antarctic ice sheet, which was becoming destabilized and could cause a rise in sea level of 10 feet or more in coming years.
Today Scott, Bush and Rubio are bright stars in the Republican firmament. Scott is Florida's governor, Bush a former governor and son and brother of presidents, and Rubio a U.S. senator. And as two scientific papers out this week show, Mercer's prediction is being borne out.
But all three men -- mentioned as potential future presidents -- deny that climate change exists, or that humans are responsible for it, and refuse to discuss this disaster in the offing although it is the most pressing global issue. Or that their sweet home Florida already is showing the effects of rising sea levels, while in parts of Miami -- which is vying with New York City to become the American Venice -- flooding occurs even on dry and sunny days.
These men, well educated and by appearances worldly wise, have plenty of company. Although a study of nearly 14,000 global warming studies found that 97 percent of them concluded the planet is imperiled by climate change and that change is indeed human driven, a substantial minority of Americans also are denialists. In fact, these Americans stand pretty much alone among the citizens of industrialized nations in not believing that climate change is a reality and that urgent steps need to be taken to confront it.
Why are Americans outliers on the issue of gravest consequence to the human race?
Insofar as Scott, Bush and Rubio are concerned, the answer is easy: To acknowledge climate change and our role in it would be committing heresy in today's Republican Party, which is even an outlier among right-of-center parties in the Western World in determinedly ignoring evidence compiled by legions of scientists showing that not just rising sea levels, but relentless droughts, hurricanes, storm surges and floods are products of a warming planet.
Rubio is Party Pitch Perfect when he warns that efforts to limit carbon and other emissions substantially responsible for the greenhouse gases that are driving global warming will have "a devastating impact on our economy."
This is rich in two respects: Republicans extol the virtues of the market and the ability of the private sector to make right what ails us, but in this case those magnificent and munificent corporations won't be able to cope with a cap on carbon emissions or otherwise clean up their acts. And it was only just a few years ago that economists in the administration of Jeb's big brother sang the praises of market-based pollution controls, while John McCain, the party's 2008 presidential nominee, made cap-and-trade limits on greenhouse gases part of his campaign.
Since then, efforts by the Obama administration to pass cap-and-trade legislation have been branded by Republicans as "Marxist," passive energy initiatives like solar and wind generation are presidential overreach, and even the most urgent environmental initiatives, including reducing the pollution that is turning the Chesapeake Bay into a cesspool, are vehemently opposed because they would cut into the profits of coal companies and other major polluters.
The answer as to why Americans beyond politicians like Scott, Bush and Rubio are outliers on climate change is even easier: The numbers are pulled down by Republicans in general, including hard right-wingers who believe climate change is a hoax being carried out as part of an international conspiracy.
According to Pew Research Center surveys, 76 percent of Brazilians say they are concerned about climate change, as are 72 percent of Japanese, 64 percent of Italians and Spaniards, 56 percent of Germans and 54 percent of Canadians and French.
In contrast, only 40 to 45 percent of Americans (depending on the Pew survey) are concerned. When Pew broke those percentages down, it found that 65 percent of Democrats say they are concerned, while only 25 percent of Republicans say they are. When the Republican numbers are broken down, only 10 percent of the people identifying themselves as Tea Partiers are concerned, while 35 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans are concerned.
The only countries with lower levels of climate concern than American Republicans are Egypt (16 percent) and Pakistan (15 percent). Great company, eh?
Beyond calling anything they don't like bad names, Republicans are reliably proponents of American Exceptionalism. You know, that God created the U.S. to not only be the bestest nation, but to scold other nations about how to mind their affairs and meddle in those affairs, whether starting wars and imposing American-style democracy at point of gun or fomenting dissent, when the urge to be bellicose arises.
But in the case of climate change, it seems safe to substitute American Exceptionalism for American Stupidity.
Oh, and by the way, Messrs. Scott, Bush and Rubio: Mother Nature doesn't believe in voodoo science, play the stock market or subscribe to legislative gridlock.