According to the world’s top scientists, we have less than three years to right the ship to avoid climate disaster. Across the globe this summer, heat waves, fires, and floods are affecting millions of people and destroying lives as the impacts of our warming planet get more severe. Some scientists suggest that we may not even be thinking about the worst-case scenarios.
But you wouldn’t know things were so dire from the way some candidates for public office talk about climate change. As the U.S. counts down the days until the midterm elections next week, let’s take a look at who has the most—and dumbest—stuff to say on climate change.
A previous version of this article was published on August 9, 2022.
2 / 10
Hoo boy, where to start with this one? Walker, a former NFL star, will be facing off with incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock in a tight race. Walker made headlines recently for some truly innovative statements on the Green New Deal and climate change; he claimed that the U.S. has “some of the cleanest air and cleanest water of anyone in the world” and that the Green New Deal would spend “millions or billions of dollars cleaning our air up.”
In Walker’s words, the U.S.’s “good air decided to float over to China’s bad air so when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move,” he told an audience at a campaign event in July. “So it moves over to our good air space. Now, we’ve got to clean that back up.” This wasn’t a one-off comment, either: Georgia Public Broadcasting documented Walker making similar claims at other public appearances, calling the good air/bad air theory “a regular feature of his stump speech.”
It goes without saying that this is, uh, not quite how air pollution works. Given that BIPOC communities in Georgia have historically faced high levels of air pollution and health impacts, Walker might want to brush up on his science before the general election.
Oz is an interesting case among this crowd because his opinions on fracking used to be, in the grand scheme of other opinions he’s held in the past, not that bad. In 2014, Oz co-wrote a newspaper column that called for more studies on how pollution from fracking might impact human health. (Many studies have since found a link between fracking and negative health impacts.) However, he seems to have done a politically convenient 180 in this purple state, flipping to a full-throated proponent of fracking as he picked up fossil fuel supporters like Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm and former Energy Secretary Rick Perry. He has also begun to straight-up deny climate science, claiming that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere isn’t an issue (it is!!!).
Rating: 6/10 for boomeranging.
4 / 10
Doug, Doug, Doug. Oh, Dougie boy. The MAGA-loving Pennsylvania state senator surprised us in May with a big surprise win in a packed primary for governor. As recently as April, Mastriano hosted a Facebook live in which he called climate change “pop science” and dismissed the link between fossil fuels and warming as “theory.”
“Heck, the weatherman can’t get the weather right 24 hours out,” he reportedly said in the video.
Apparently, however, Doug realized that this might be a bit too much for some voters, and the video, along with 13 others on controversial topics, were deleted by mid-July.
Mastriano himself has kept quiet on climate since winning the nomination. Beyond just climate denial, his candidacy represents some much larger general concerns for our overall democracy as he campaigns on a platform of election denial and bad information. (Mastriano attended the January 6 insurrection, if that gives you any idea of what his politics are like beyond climate.) As the Daily Beast reported, a meme page that’s filled with “xenophobic, transphobic, and antisemitic” content was allegedly run by Mastriano’s campaign. If so, that meme page would confirm that he’s still deep in denier land, with a meme poking fun at scientists at predicting “the weather…in 100 years” posted recently..
Rating: 9/10 for relatability. We’ve all posted something embarrassing on social media that we’ve then had to hastily delete.
5 / 10
Barbara Kirkmeyer may not have as big a national profile as some of these other politicians, but her climate views are even more extreme. Kirkmeyer, a current Colorado state senator running for one of the state’s open seats in the House of Representatives, told the Colorado Sun in June that “the Earth has been gradually warming since the Little Ice Age,” saying that “to what extent any warming is a result of man-caused activity is unknown.” (That’s very wrong.)
The Colorado Newsline attempted to verify Kirkmeyer’s viewpoints in July, and, according to the paper, got a bit of an earful.
“How old are you?” Alan Philp, a spokesperson for Kirkmeyer’s campaign, asked a reporter in a brief phone interview. “You wouldn’t remember the ’70s. I remember the ’70s, when the scientific consensus was all about global cooling.”
Philp contested the reporter’s characterization of Kirkmeyer “denying” climate science. He claimed that there are “plenty of meteorologists who would say exactly what she said,” falsely using Weather Channel founder John Coleman, who was a climate denier and not a meteorologist, as an example.
In October, the Colorado Sun reported that Kirkmeyer said: “we just don’t know to what extent” humans contribute to climate change (which is categorically untrue). “I’ve never been a climate-change denier,” Kirkmeyer told the paper.
Rating: 6/10. Very old-school, but an impressive double-down.
6 / 10
Eric Schmitt and Mark Brnovich
Eric Schmitt and Mark Brnovich
These two get a special entry together. Schmitt, the current Attorney General of Missouri, and Brnovich, who’s the Attorney General of Arizona, have been at the forefront of the charge from state attorneys general to challenge the Biden administration on climate. Schmitt was the leading figure in a 12-state lawsuit against the social cost of carbon, which Brnovich joined. Meanwhile, Brnovich has spearheaded a separate 24-state lawsuit against the SEC’s requirements for climate disclosures—which Schmitt is also a part of. If these two get to Washington, the odds are good that they’ll continue to attack climate progress from the Senate.
Rating: 7/10. Less splashy than some of the others on this list, but no less dangerous.
7 / 10
Adam Laxalt is another one of those tricky candidates who adhere to the newer brand of conservative climate bullshitting that is hard to call out. He doesn’t outright deny that climate change is happening, but he recently downplayed renewable energy as “simply not enough,” while also blaming bad “forest management” for wildfires in the West. He also has a history of helping out the oil and gas industry: While serving as Nevada’s attorney general in 2016, Laxalt joined up with pro-oil interests like the Koch brothers to defend ExxonMobil from a probe into its role in downplaying oil and gas’s influence on climate change. (The Koch brothers went on to generously donate $2.5 million to Laxalt’s failed gubernatorial campaign in 2018.)
Rating: 8/10. That Exxon boosting is making me uncomfortable.
8 / 10
In Arizona, Republican nominee Blake Masters won his primary this summer, backed by $13 million in support from Silicon Valley techno-libertarian king Peter Thiel. Masters, who is running against incumbent Democratic Senator Scott Kelly, is probably one of the scariest figures of the new right: His tech-funded idea for America is a militant place that uses the “rule of law” to shore up support for pushing back against the “radical left.”
In an interview in February, Masters showed how his ideology can be used to cast doubt on climate science.
“We gotta figure out if the Earth is warming up, and why, and how much of it is caused by humans,” Masters said when asked about climate change. (FYI, Blake buddy, we already know this.) “The problem is people feel like they’ve been lied to, so much and so often, by the expert class. Not just on climate change, on everything—on covid, on Jeffrey Epstein, on literally almost every narrative. …I don’t think there’s any sort of public health or climate science legitimate perspective that people perceive as such, and it sounds an awful lot that AOC just wants the keys to the entire economy, and that’s the work that climate change is doing.”
This false direction on established science—the insinuation that decades of research and warnings from the entire scientific establishment are somehow a false flag planted by elites—is part and parcel of Masters’s terrifying Thiel-style fascist rhetoric. (Full disclosure: Thiel was the key funder of a lawsuit that bankrupted this website’s former parent company, Gawker Media.) This race isn’t crucial only for climate science but for the future of democracy itself.
Rating: -10,000/10. Giving me panic attacks about where we’re headed politically.
9 / 10
A Bunch of People Already in Office
A Bunch of People Already in Office
The folks listed so far here are political newcomers, running against incumbents. But the climate denial call is coming from inside the house—literally. With almost every seat in the House and more than 30 Senate seats up for grabs, quite a few politicians who have made dubious and/or laughable statements about climate science are defending their seats this November.
There’s Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who just last year called climate science “bullshit.” In the House, Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona claimed back in 2019 that photosynthesis disproved climate science. Missouri Rep. Jason Smith has made fun of the science behind the beef industry’s contribution to warming, while Rep. Tim Wahlberg of Michigan once said God would “take care of” climate change. And how can we forget Georgia’s Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has floated the theory that space lasers were responsible for California wildfires and who in June called climate change “healthy for all of us” and used Scooby-Doo memes in Congress to make false claims about the Green New Deal?
Rating: -10/10. All these people already have the power to make decisions about our democracy. Cool!!!!