GOULDSBORO — During the question-and-answer session following George Mitchell’s speech at the Schoodic Institute on Tuesday, I asked Sen. Mitchell to explain why climate change and global warming had become politically partisan issues. His response was extensive, but the gist of it was that the Republicans whom he knows in Congress accept that climate change and global warming are happening and that human activity is responsible, especially due to increased CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.

He added, however, that in order to appeal to their base, Republican lawmakers either deny climate change or aver that the science is not yet settled. Our Republican president, Donald Trump, is the leading denier of climate change, said Sen. Mitchell, who criticized Trump for withdrawing the United States from the Paris accord.

I admire and deeply respect Sen. Mitchell and told him that I wish he and not Trump occupied the Oval Office today, yet I am mildly disappointed with his answer to my question. As Mitchell himself pointed out, 97 percent of all actively publishing climate scientists agree that climate change is happening – just 3 percent fewer than the scientific consensus on gravity as a physical force of nature.

What the former Senate majority leader should have added, but likely did not because he remains mired in outdated notions of cordial legislative bipartisanship, is that the Republican Party has become the party of anti-science, anti-Obama policies and anti-truth. Yes, Trump calls the tune – climate change is a Chinese conspiracy designed to weaken American productivity – but slavish Republican legislators (Susan Collins and, on occasion, John McCain are exceptions) dance to the music orchestrated by Trump, alt-right Rasputin Steve Bannon and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. Most Republican lawmakers have quietly embraced their fictions. Witness current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan praising Trump for withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accord.

A Yale University survey of registered voters, conducted from May 18 to June 6, helps to explain why. Seventy-eight percent of all Democrats, 54 percent of all independents but only 24 percent of all Republicans believe that global warming should be a high or very high priority for the president and Congress. Similarly, 71 percent of Democrats, 57 percent of independents but only 30 percent of Republicans say they would support a candidate for public office because of their position on global warming.

Misrepresenting the science of climate change, claiming it is a “hoax” and telling untruths to bolster the party base are the tactics Trump’s Republican Party has employed with foolish consistency to the acclaim of little minds.

No surprise – America’s voting public is polarized, and partisan stances on climate change is but one example. Oddly, the environmental credentials of 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain were stronger than those of his Democratic rival, Barack Obama, but arguably Obama’s aggressive second-term actions on addressing climate change likely made it easier for Republican officials and voters alike to harden their unscientific opposition to policies designed to reduce America’s carbon footprint.

To deny climate change is to repudiate the former president, much in the same way as to deny the beneficial effects of Obamacare, such as providing health insurance for the poor, is seen as an opportunity to reverse Obama’s success. If today’s Republican Party stands for anything, it stands for undoing Obama’s contributions to advancing the public good.

In its unwise and unproductive negativity toward any policy promoted by Obama, the governing party is, in fact, not governing. If it were, it might well pay attention to another aspect of the Yale survey that reports 57 percent of registered Republicans support regulating CO2 as a pollutant and 56 percent of Republicans believe that corporations and industry should do more to address global warming.

I personally know a number of local lobster fishermen who share George Mitchell’s concern that the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than any other body of water in the world, with the effect that lobsters continue to migrate north toward cooler waters. At bottom, global warming should be a noncontroversial basis for the political parties to find, as it were, common ground. The question is not whether government should be involved in mitigating the effects of climate change, but how best to regulate industries that cause global warming.

George Mitchell ended his talk by urging every Mainer to congratulate Sen. Susan Collins for her principled stand against the repeal of Obamacare. He is right to showcase this particular profile in courage, and I for one am happy to oblige.

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