Scopes demonstrationCross-posted from Wonk Room.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce — the 97-year-old organization that bills itself as the “voice of business” — wants to put climate science on trial. As the Environmental Protection Agency nears a final ruling that manmade global warming endangers the public health and welfare, “the chamber will tell the EPA in a filing today that a trial-style public hearing” on the science of climate change is needed to “make a fully informed, transparent decision with scientific integrity based on the actual record of the science.” William Kovacs, the chamber’s senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs, told the Los Angeles Times this hearing would be “the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century“:

It would be evolution versus creationism. It would be the science of climate change on trial.

In 1925, Tennessee schoolteacher John Scopes was indicted for teaching evolution against state law. His trial, intended as a test of the law, became a national phenomenon when as the World Christian Fundamentals Association and the American Civil Liberties Union brought the famed lawyers William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow into battle. Scopes was found guilty. Even though the state supreme court overturned the verdict of the “bizarre case” on a technicality, the public fallout was intense. The anti-evolution movement lost steam (before being reborn as “intelligent design“) and science textbooks with biblical quotations were phased out.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is taking a similarly bizarre approach here, calling for a show trial of climate science. Perhaps Kovacs and other officials at the U.S. Chamber believe that the rest of the business world shares their extremist views. After all, U.S. corporations continue to fund their multi-million-dollar lobbying against health care and energy reform.

It’s also possible this is an attempt to disrupt the effort to fight global warming with a culture war, tying the science of climate change to fundamentalists’ unease with evolution. Conservative activists have already made the connection. “It’s still a theory,” a town hall protester confronted Rep. Mike Castle (D-DE) after he supported climate legislation in June. “So is Darwin’s theory of evolution! And yet we have the audacity to say global warming is accurate, it’s more than a theory?”

There aren’t many natural parallels between the physics of greenhouse gases emitted by burning fossil fuels and the biology of natural selection, but the American conservative movement depends on the cozy relationship between oil and the Christian right. It seems like a high-risk strategy to convince Americans that God means for us to pollute His creation on behalf of oil and coal tycoons. But when reality is not on your side, there’s not much else left.

Update: At the Swamp, Jim Tankersley explains how the “trial” would work:

Scientists would present evidence for and against the finding. Each side would be allowed to cross-examine the other. An administrative law judge, or an EPA official, would preside and issue the final ruling. The EPA conducts similar hearings routinely, but on much smaller issues, such as issuing permits. Chamber officials say the agency held a large-scale public hearing in the 1970s on the subject of toxic water pollutants. EPA officials say such a hearing would be a waste of time and money – so the Chamber will likely sue in federal court in hopes of forcing one.

Update: At Climate Progress, Joe Romm notes that the science of climate change has already been fought over in court, and asks the board members of the Chamber of Commerce “to declare whether they are evolved members of humanity or dedicated to our self-destruction.”

These members claim to “support economy-wide reductions in CO2 emissions and/or federal cap-and-trade legislation”: Alcoa, Caterpillar, Deere & Co., Dow Chemical, Duke Energy, Eastman Kodak, Entergy, Fox Entertainment, IBM, Lockheed, Nike, PepsiCo., PNM Resources, Rolls Royce, Siemens, Toyota, and Xerox.