The familiar refrain that Republican Politician X is unqualified to draw any conclusions about the science of climate change probably sounds silly to a lot of people. As Insane Clown Posse has eloquently explained, physical systems can simultaneously be difficult to understand and produce outcomes everyone's familiar with and happy to accept.
But as a talking point, feigned ignorance is far, far superior to the alternatives available to most Republicans.
On MSNBC Monday, Representative Jeff Miller of climate-vulnerable Florida decided he was prepared to weigh in on the science. It did not go well.
For a minute or two, Miller flirted with less elegant, but familiar evasions—humans can't possibly do anything to stabilize the climate, even if it is changing; some people once worried wrongly about "global cooling"; it's not as much of a scientific consensus as liberals would have you believe. Two false claims bookending a non-sequitur. But the money quote came when host Richard Lui pressed him to take a position on whether the changing climate (which Miller conceded) could be attributed to human activity.
"Why did the dinosaurs go extinct? Were there men that were causing—were there cars running around at that point that were causing global warming. No. The climate has changed since the Earth was created."
Miller's correct that dinosaurs were not in fact rendered extinct by anthropogenic climate change. Whether this means he acknowledges that dinosaurs and humans didn't inhabit the planet simultaneously, or that he believes Cretaceous-era humans weren't sophisticated enough to drive automobiles, I'm...unqualified to say. If it's the former, I suppose it's progress of a sort.
But to the extent that changes in the climate killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, those changes were in turn due to the small matter of a city-sized asteroid slamming into the Yucatan Peninsula—an important fact Miller either chose to omit or didn't know. Or perhaps it slipped his mind. He probably would've been better off sticking with "I'm not a scientist, man." Either way, I'll grant him this much: If a city-sized asteroid slams into the Earth a year or two from now, we can all stop debating the proper response to anthropogenic climate change.
Brian Beutler is a senior editor at The New Republic.