Inhofe Denies Climate Change, Embraces Turtles

Inhofe Denies Climate Change, Embraces Turtles

beach turtle
Senator James Inhofe denies the importance of climate change. But personal experience informs him that turtles are hugely significant.

Inhofe’s belief that the general consensus among global climate scientists is the product of a conspiratorial hoax is easily the least defensible of the various brands of climate skepticism on the shelf. (Skepticism about science, and lots of other institutions, is perfectly defensible. Childish fantasies about conspiracies — this one apparently orchestrated in part by Hollywood — are merely sad.)

Religion plays a prominent role in Inhofe’s worldview. Consider this passage from a profile of the senator, the new chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, in the Washington Post:

In his view, God created resources for man to use, and while climate change may occur as a result of natural cycles, he does not believe human action can be the primary driver.

“The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous,” he said in a 2012 radio interview.

Inhofe’s religious beliefs have a comprehensible logic: God is responsible for creation, and nothing humans do can make much difference. But the senator seems to apply that logic with remarkable selectivity, especially when it comes to one little corner of creation:

For decades, he has vacationed off the coast of Texas on South Padre Island, among the few homes to the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle.

Inhofe remembers the nights he used to volunteer to help hatching sea turtles make their way to the ocean, protecting them from predators. In 2003, Inhofe co-sponsored a bill to force shrimpers to put turtle excluders on their boats to keep from accidentally catching them in their nets.

Inhofe’s personal experience with Kemp’s ridley sea turtles trumps both his anti-regulatory ideology and his philosophical belief in the limits of human agency in influencing divine creation. “You know, you’d really just have to see a Ridley sea turtle to understand,” he told the Post.

Let’s take that sentence and change a few words: « You know, you’d really just have to do climate research 10 hours a day to understand. »

Everyone is shaped by experience. Obviously, there is no formula for how much or what kind of experience — or religion — should influence a politician’s agenda. But the elevation of Inhofe’s South Padre Island vacations, and his dismissal of the daily work experience of thousands of scientists around the world, suggests that something in the way the senator experiences the world is dangerously out of whack.

To contact the author on this story:
Francis Wilkinson at

To contact the editor on this story:
Zara Kessler at