Hurricane Irma: Climate change deniers' chickens come home to roost 

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Damage and flooding in Naples, Florida after Hurricane Irma (screen shot via @GMA).

As the devastation of Hurricane Irma rips through Florida will it convince deniers like shock jock Rush Limbaugh, Governor Rick Scott and the Koch brothers that there is no climate science conspiracy? Dr Norm Sanders reports.

UP UNTIL a few days ago, U.S. right wing media personality Rush Limbaugh was still enthusiastically pushing the climate change denial barrow. 

On Tuesday, 5 September, he broadcasted his take on Hurricane Irma: 

So there is a desire to advance this climate change agenda and hurricanes are one of the fastest and best ways to do it. You can accomplish a lot just by creating fear and panic. You don’t need a hurricane to hit anywhere. All you need is to create the fear and panic accompanied by talk that climate change is causing hurricanes to become more frequent and bigger and more dangerous, and you create the panic, and it’s mission accomplished, agenda advanced.

Well, the TV stations begin reporting this and the panic begins to increase. And then people end up going to various stores to stock up on water and whatever they might need for home repairs and batteries, and all this that they’re advised to get and a vicious circle is created. You have these various retail outlets who spend a lot of advertising dollars with the local media ...

Two days after this rant, Limbaugh was evacuated from his Palm Beach residence along with his neighbours at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort. Limbaugh hasn't been heard from since.

Limbaugh is among friends in Florida, which is America's number one climate change denier state from the top on down. In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times when he was running for governor, Rick Scott was asked if he believes in global warming. Scott replied: “No. I have not been convinced." 

Asked what it would take to persuade him: "Something more convincing than what I've read".  

Following his election as Governor of Florida, Scott has presided over business-as-usual for the fossil fuel industry and has hindered all efforts at utilising renewable energy. Investor-owned utilities who make vast profits from burning oil and gas are in league with front groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to crush renewables in Florida. ALEC operates all over the U.S. and is massively funded by the Koch brothers.

Each of the brothers is worth more than $40 billion. Their company, Koch Industries, is the second largest private business in the U.S. and is right up there with ExxonMobil and American Electric Power in the list of top polluters in the country. 

The Koch brothers power the Republican Party and helped finance the Tea Party movement. Their fingerprints are all over Trump's policies, including denying climate change and repealing the Affordable Care Act. In 1980, David Koch ran as the Libertarian Party's vice presidential candidate. His party platform became a blueprint for the ongoing attack on every major piece of legislation over the past century viewed as “progressive.'' 

The 26 items in the platform sound like a Trump campaign speech. They include repealing and abolishing the minimum age laws, abortion funding, Social Security, the Food and Drug Administration, child welfare systems, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and seat belt laws.

It is no surprise that Koch also called for the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy.

The Koch brothers and the power utilities have succeeded in keeping Florida practically renewable free. The "Sunshine State" would seem a natural for solar power. It has the best available renewable energy potential east of the Mississippi and the third best in the U.S. — but ranks 16th in the country behind snowy places like New Jersey, Massachusetts and New York for renewables. The forces of darkness have achieved their goal of squashing renewables through rate hikes and punishing fees for those trying to go solar. (Just like Tasmania's Hydro Electric Commission did in the 1970s when those installing solar water heaters were charged higher fees.)

Why do the utilities fight so hard? Cheap, self-generated solar power will put the energy dinosaurs out of business and they know it. The Edison Electric Institute, a utility trade group, fears that rooftop solar could do to their industry what digital photography did to Kodak.

Enter Hurricane Irma. Irma is one of the largest storms in recorded history, with a footprint which would cover France. At its peak, Irma was so far above Category 5 it was classified as Category 5++. But there was not just one hurricane, but two, with Category 4 Jose also active at the same time. 

Having two huge hurricanes in the Atlantic simultaneously has never happened before. These hurricanes are the result of exceedingly warm water in the Ocean, which reached temperatures above 30 degrees Celcius. The warm water spawned the hurricanes in the Alantic and kept them growing as they moved westward. 

When the ocean becomes warmer, it heats the atmosphere which can then hold more moisture. Rainfall increases as a result. Houston residents learned that the hard way.

Hurricanes do more than drop tremendous quantities of rain. They also drive masses of water ahead of them which creates storm surges. Rising sea levels makes flooding even more severe. 

Has Irma changed minds about climate change? 

Governor Rick Scott refuses to be drawn on the subject:

"The biggest thing you can do now is pray." 

Will Rush Limbaugh change his tune? Will Donald Trump, who lost his $17 million property on St Martin, become a believer? The Koch brothers certainly won't be moved.

As Upton Sinclair once wrote

'It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.'

Dr Norm Sanders is a former academic, TV journalist, Tasmanian MP and Australian Federal Senator. 

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