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Friday, August 27, 2021

The Anti-Greta, Climate Change & the Alaska Senate Race

By Zachary Brown

She stood in the roiling crowd, amid clean-cut college kids and potbellied dudes in cowboy hats and media men dashing this way and that. Her stringy blonde hair, her dark eyeliner, her sneakers and the flannel tied round her waist, all gave a picture of punk defiance. How ironic, I thought, given the suit-wearing merchants of the status quo she represents. They chose someone small and thin as a garter snake for their enormous, dreadful task.

Meet Naomi Seibt: the anti-Greta.

The GOP needed an answer to Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who has gained astonishing traction calling bullshit on their climate denial and profit-over-people-&-planet agenda. And so the Koch Brothers’ front group Heartland Institute somehow recruited this German girl willing to spout climate denial nonsense, and brought her here to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), her American debut. She even kind of looks like Greta. It’s creepy and it’s trollish. And it promises to make this girl’s life very hard, as people working to preserve a livable world rage at her for speeding our plunge into climate chaos.

People like me. A climate scientist, educator, and activist, I came to CPAC as part of my commitment to political activism in 2020, this most crucial election year of our lives. I’d been volunteering for Dr. Al Gross’s campaign for U.S. Senate against Alaska’s climate-denying Republican incumbent Dan Sullivan. Now I wanted to understand the GOP’s latest machinations in climate denial – and here she was, in the flesh.

I mustered my courage and strode toward her. “I have a question: what would you say to Native people in my home state of Alaska, whose villages are falling into the ocean from sea level rise?”

She looked past me, refusing to meet my eye. “Well, I’m sorry that things are happening,” she said, her perfect English laced with a mild German accent, “but it has nothing to do with carbon emissions.”

All week at CPAC I’ve been bombarded by lies. The GOP is the party of lies, and Naomi’s job is to carry those lies forth to the next generation.

How the modern GOP became the anti-reality party has much to do with the overpowering influence of a few billionaires like the Koch Brothers, whose extreme free market, reverse Robin Hood agenda – privatization, deregulation, and tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy – has since 1980 moved from the fringe to the centerpiece of the GOP. The only way to advance this rich-get-richer agenda, which is unpopular even among Republican voters, is to lie about its true goals; hence, the GOP has become stacked with con men, claiming to be the party of the working class while pushing pro-corporate policies, using cultural and racial wedges to distract from the extraordinary economic inequality crushing the men and women of their own base.

Also at play is the overpowering influence of evangelical Christians, to whom science is anathema. Watching evangelical pastors keep gathering their flocks during the growing pandemic, Katherine Steward writes that among evangelicals, “Fealty to the cause is everything, fealty to the facts means nothing.”

And of course, it has much to do with the encompassing right-wing media machine, which creates an entire ecosystem of mutually reinforcing propaganda – like the giant domed set of the Truman Show, where one can live comfortably, blissfully ignorant of the outside world. And as Truman Show cast members who dared to tell the truth were booted, so Trump Show cast members who stray into reality are ostracized. Just before my arrival at CPAC, Mitt Romney was the lone GOP Senator who voted to convict Trump of abuse of power based on overwhelming evidence. Fox News eviscerated Romney, and CPAC disinvited him, saying they could not guarantee his safety. He was booed repeatedly throughout the week.

GOP lies have proven incredibly resilient, able to fend off inconvenient truths for decades. Yet today, reality is reasserting itself with a vengeance, like a piercing alarm that even the GOP’s most lunatic ravings can’t drown out.

Take climate change. Since Trump’s election, we’ve witnessed 4 of the 5 hottest years ever recorded on planet Earth, with ferocious storms and wildfires causing hundreds of billions of dollars in damages in the U.S. alone. The jarring combination of on-the-ground devastation and official government denial has rocketed climate change to the top of the agenda for millions of voters, making the GOP so fearful of electoral losses that outright climate denial is retreating to the fringe, and some GOP members are even talking about half-measures like carbon pricing.

Even more dramatic is coronavirus. As American bodies stacked up, the GOP’s tried-and-true strategy of denial failed so miserably that, in unprecedented deference to reality, Fox Business network fired an anchor for touting the coronavirus “impeachment scam.”

This is how reality reasserts itself in the modern world: through death and destruction. GOP lies are rapidly proving to be no match for it.

Dr. Al Gross is running for U.S. Senate as a man of science. Unlike his opponent “Ohio Dan” Sullivan, Al will not dismiss his constituents as “climate change alarmists” – he will act. Unlike Ohio Dan, Al will speak up when our leaders call a global pandemic a liberal hoax or a beer virus or suggest that people inject disinfectant into their veins. Al is running on the reality platform, and there seems to be immense appetite for it – nearly 20,000 Alaskans joined Al’s first coronavirus tele-town hall – more than attend a Trump rally.

On the busy, blue-carpeted floor at CPAC, Naomi stood impassively, her lie hanging in the air. I watched her, nodding my head slowly, allowing a resigned half smile. “I’m sure the people losing their villages will be very comforted by your words,” I said, turning to walk away.

Never mind. Her lies are no match for reality either: while Naomi boasts about her 27,000 Twitter followers, Greta has 4.1 million. Naomi’s speech at CPAC gathered no more than 50 people – she is a bit player, a pawn.  What terrified me as I walked away is not Naomi herself, but what she symbolizes: the GOP’s desperation to cling to their lies as long as possible, into the next generation and beyond, no matter the absurdity, no matter the cost in human lives. 

The rising tide of reality can be kept at bay as long as the GOP holds power – but there is one thing that will topple their lies as surely as sand castles on a Florida beach: losing.

That will be the ultimate reassertion of reality: flipping the U.S. Senate this November by sending Dr. Al Gross to Washington.


 

Zach Brown is a climate scientist, educator, and activist.

He lives in Gustavus, AK with his wife Laura and his dog Aayla.

He is a founding member of the grassroots group “Alaskans for Al” and has swag!

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One Response to “The Anti-Greta, Climate Change & the Alaska Senate Race”
  1. Annie Mackovjak says:

    Thanks for speaking out with your strong voice, Zach. May the truth prevail.

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