He's chairman of the House panel closest with climate change legislation. Yet the best he can do is decline to talk about the most pressing threat of our time. Government at its best, indeed.
Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, heads the Subcommittee on Environment and Economy, a division of the oft-boring but hugely important Energy and Commerce Committee. So, considering the constantly mounting evidence that planetary warming is accelerating, one would hope Shimkus has some thoughts on the potentially species-threatening issue.
And, on Tuesday, I asked about it.
"Hey, the climate changes. The questions is, is it based on what we're doing?" Shimkus said.
And that's it. That's really all he said. Well, other than the standard line about a "war on coal" and something about the market's dominant position atop the priority list.
The sad part, for those who haven't followed Shimkus' 18 years in the House, is the non-answer is an improvement.
In 2010, Shimkus, a devout Lutheran, went full-on Bronze Age during a floor debate on climate change.
Carbon emissions aren't a threat, he reasoned at the time, because God promised in Genesis he wouldn't again wipe out humanity after Noah's flood. Predictably, this didn't go well for Shimkus. The media had a field day with the literalist congressman from Illinois who rejects not only science, but 5,000 years of intellectual progress in general. Shimkus is apparently unaware that some of history's most seminal thinkers -- the likes of St. Thomas Aquinas, Renee Descartes and Charles Darwin -- were also devout believers. These were men who spent their lives trying to inject reason into their beliefs. They used faith as a launching pad into critical thought, often paying a price. And in the process, they built the foundation for the modern sciences.
Shimkus just passes over everything from Socrates to Stephen Hawking with nary a glance. I don't recall Leviticus addressing the thermonuclear reaction.
Simply attacking a man for his faith isn't appropriate. But Shimkus' particular brand of religion is so political, so blunt and so public that it can't be ignored. Every morning, for example, he tweets a Bible verse. And often, those verses contain some of the text's most deterministic passages. Man has no real power over himself, the message goes. That's in God's hands, says the historically thought-crushing canon.
If Shimkus truly believes that all action is fundamentally futile, then why bother governing at all? That's where his stance, if he really means it, falls apart. Running for office with the aim of influencing policy is pointless if a universal prime mover determines every aspect of existence. And the 10-term Republican is smarter than that. At some level, it's just good politics. It's an anti-regulation front, one that truly serves corporate interests.
And, in some ways, even a heathen like myself is OK with that. It's the game and ours is a system specifically designed to accommodate varying perspectives. But science-hating Sen. Ted Cruz now controls the Senate's NASA oversight committee following the GOP seizure of the upper house. Sen. Jim Inhofe, of Oklahoma, makes Cruz look like Neil deGrasse Tyson. And he's chairman of that chamber's Committee on Environment and Public Works.
The unhinged are running the asylum, which only amplifies Shimkus' role in the deny-and-do-nothing climate caucus.
The Earth is warming. The Arctic is melting. And more than 7 billion human beings are consuming resources and pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at levels never before seen on this planet. March was the first month on record where atmospheric carbon dioxide levels averaged more than 400 parts per million, federal scientists announced on Wednesday. These are the facts. The climate change debate isn't about saving some ice-bound bears. It's about prolonging the existence of our species.
And yet, the best the chairman of the House subcommittee charged with tackling climate change can do is avoid the topic at any cost.