On a summery afternoon in mid-March, Senator Inhofe dashes onto the stage at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., to introduce his new book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. “Why?” he asks the crowd. “Why, when the United Nations IPCC is totally refuted, when Al Gore is totally discredited, when man-made global warming is totally debunked, when passing a global-warming cap-and-trade bill is totally shot down, why is this book necessary?” He veers off-topic for several minutes to rail against “liberal Republicans” and “an unelected bureaucrat at the EPA.” Then, suddenly, he looks around and asks, “Am I going to be introduced?”
I scan the room. Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Marc Morano, the ClimateDepot.com blogger and former Inhofe aide who is widely considered to have ghostwritten most of his book, are there. So are about 150 others, a mostly older crowd that’s captivated by Inhofe’s folksy outrage and his PowerPoint presentation, which begins with his famous 2003 quote: “With all the hysteria, all the fear, all the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? It sure sounds like it is.”
It’s an entertaining ride. Inhofe doesn’t mention Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s comment earlier that week referring to him as “Big Oil’s top call girl.” Instead he speaks of the current “war on fossil fuels” and about how the U.N.’s interest in climate is motivated by “power, autonomy and control.” He boasts of how, in 2005, he called science-fiction novelist Michael Crichton to the Senate floor to testify as an “expert witness” on climate change and about how in 2009 he flew to Copenhagen as “a one-man truth squad” to take the wind out of the U.N. Climate Change Conference. He shows a picture of the igloo his children built in front of their Washington, D.C., home in 2010 to mock Al Gore.
Throughout his presentation, Inhofe deftly manages to be simultaneously affable and outraged. “I love everybody,” he tells me after the crowd has departed, adding that he and Gore were “good friends” at one time. “I still am,” he says, “because I love everybody. That’s the difference between me and my adversaries.”
Just as in the rest of the country, belief in human-caused climate change in Oklahoma has been rising with the thermometer—according to Krosnick, a large majority of Inhofe’s constituents now believe that anthropogenic global warming is real. I ask Inhofe if he’s noticed any climate changes in his home state, such as last summer’s unprecedented heat and severe drought, withering crops, wild fires and dramatically expanded tornado season. “There’s not been any warming,” he snaps. “And there’s actually been a little bit of cooling. It’s all documented. Look at the Dust Bowl. Back then it was a lot hotter. Matter of fact, now they say the hottest time was actually during that time—1934, I guess.”
Actually, last summer’s average temperature of 86.9˚ was the highest ever recorded in Oklahoma. And last spring’s drought, when hundreds of farmers abandoned livestock they could no longer manage to feed or water, was the worst since 1921.
Many of the scientists I’ve spoken with say that no single act of harassment or intimidation has stung more than Inhofe’s “list of 17,” the call for the congressional investigation of prominent climate scientists. Mann, I tell Inhofe, said it “smacked of modern-day McCarthyism.”
“I’m not the guy that called for investigations, I don’t think,” Inhofe says. He quickly glances at his communications director, Matt Dempsey. “Did I ever call for investigations?” I study Inhofe’s face for a clue as to whether he’s joking—he brags about the episode in his book. It’s clear that he is not. Dempsey nods at his boss. “Okay,” Inhofe says. “Maybe right after Climate Gate, I said they need to be investigated.”
The room is nearly empty when I ask Inhofe, finally, if he could imagine the possibility, however remote, that science could provide any amount or type of evidence that could convince him that human-caused climate change could be real. The senator darts an impatient look at his watch, and his handlers rise. It’s clear that the interview is coming to an end. “When people like you ask that question,” Inhofe says, “I can tell you believe it.”
Tom Clynes is a contributing editor at Popular Science. His last story, in March, was The Boy Who Played with Fusion.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.