Cross-posted from Climate Progress.

Did you see the big smackdown Thursday night between MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.)? The dean of disinformation mostly just repeated his well-worn falseshoods about global warming, which Maddow shot down.

But there was one remarkable admission from the former chair of the Senate Environment Committee:

I was actually on your side of this issue when I was chairing that committee and I first heard about this. I thought it must be true until I found out what it cost.

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In short, learning about the (supposed) high cost of the solution is what turned him from a believer in climate science to a denier.

Yes, you always have to take what Inhofe says with a grain of (smelling) salt, but this admission confirms what many of us have been saying for years. As The New York Times explained about a 2008 denial conference, “The one thing all the attendees seem to share is a deep dislike for mandatory restrictions on greenhouse gases.” If you can’t abide the cure, you’re much more likely to deny the disease.

The journalist Michael Kinsley famously said, “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth.”

Watch it (four minutes in):

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It’s long been clear that it’s far more costly not to act. And the International Energy Agency explained last year [PDF], ”Delaying action is a false economy: For every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.”

Ironically, the kind of denial and delay Inhofe is promoting guarantees much bigger and more intrusive government in the coming decades, for two reasons:

  • We will still have to do all of the same mitigation, but in a much shorter time frame, which means in a manner much less business friendly than if we had passed the climate bill.
  • We will have to do a huge amount of adaptation, whereby government spends tens of billions through FEMA and gets into the business of telling people where they can and can’t live (can’t let people keep rebuilding in the ever-spreading flood plains or the ever-enlarging areas threatened by sea-level rise and Dust Bowlification) and how they can live (sharp water curtailment in the southwest Dust Bowl, for instance).

Tragically, Inhofe’s home state is among those poised to suffer the worst and ultimately depopulate. As we saw in the 1930s Dust Bowl, abandonment is the most common adaptation strategy when faced with prolonged drought — and the droughts Oklahoma will be seeing in the coming decades will make the Dust Bowl seem wet and cool by comparison.

The other memorable part of the exchange occurs about seven minutes in. Maddow points out that Inhofe gets a lot of money from fossil fuel companies and the Kochs, so shouldn’t a “reasonable person” think that his “anti-global warming, pro-fossil fuel stance is sort of just what your donors are paying for”?

Inhofe first says “Big Oil” isn’t really that big. Seriously. The top five oil companies made $1 trillion in profits from 2001 through 2011.

Then he starts to ramble about some article that showed environmentalists far outspent industry. He claimed it just appeared in “a very liberal publication” — by which he means the journal Nature, one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world.

But what he was actually referring to was a 2011 study by Matthew Nisbet of American University (that got covered in Nature at the time). Of course, that study was thoroughly debunked by one of its original reviewers.

Indeed, I showed the reverse was true, with the help of that reviewer. The data actually suggest opponents of the bill far outspent environmentalists during the climate bill debate of 2009 and 2010:

  • 8-to-1 on lobbying in 2009
  • 4-to-1 (or more) on advertising in 2009
  • 8-to-1 in donations to candidates and Congress members in 2010 cycle
  • 10-to-1 on independent election expenditures in 2010

Maddow, of course, was stunned by Inhofe’s claims:

“So you think that the environmental groups have more money they spend on this issue [climate change] than the entire energy industry?” a skeptical Maddow asked.

“Absolutely,” Inhofe replied confidently. “You get the, the George Soros, the Michael Moores, all the Hollywood elites and all your good friends out there. Yeah, they sure do.”

“I would put Michael Moore up against Exxon on this any day,” Maddow said laughing.

As Raw Story noted of the exchange:

However, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, environmental groups spent $22.4 million on lobbying efforts in 2009, while the energy industry spent $175 million.

What a surprise that the debunked Nisbet report is now nothing more than a talking point for the top anti-science denier in the country.

The ExxonMobil ad that accompanies the Maddow clip is an ironic coda on this whole discussion. The fossil fuel companies keep spending a staggering amount of money to push their views, whereas enviros have sharply scaled back their relatively modest spending.

Personally, I’m not certain that giving so much air time to a well-practiced disinformer is a great idea. I suspect Maddow’s underlying goal was to zing him on his ties to Ugandan anti-gay politicians in the second segment. I’d be interested in your thoughts on this.