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James Inhofe, former Republican senator who called climate change a ‘hoax’, dies aged 89
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James Inhofe, former Republican senator who called climate change a ‘hoax’, dies aged 89

The Republican former senator James Inhofe, a climate denier who once brought a snowball to the chamber floor in a stunt attempting to disprove global warming, died on Tuesday at the age of 89.

Inhofe resigned as senator for Oklahoma in January 2023, suffering long-term effects of Covid-19. Elected in 1994, his time as the state’s longest-serving senator was notable for his ultra-conservative positions on numerous issues, including calling the climate emergency “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people”.

His death was announced on Tuesday in a family statement, which stated the cause was a stroke.

The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, a Republican ally during Inhofe’s chairing of the Senate’s armed forces and environment committees, was among the first to pay tribute.

“The people he served, a group much larger than the proud residents of the Sooner state, were better for it,” a statement from McConnell’s office said.

“Jim’s diligent stewardship of massive infrastructure projects transformed life across the heartland. His relentless advocacy for American energy dominance unlocked new prosperity across the country. And his laser focus on growing and modernizing the US military strengthened the security of the entire free world.”

As perhaps the most vocal Senate Republican climate denier, he called the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a “Gestapo bureaucracy”, opposed efforts by Democrats to cap greenhouse gas emissions, and pursued lucrative tax incentives for domestic oil and gas producers.

His widely ridiculed snowball stunt came in 2015, during a rambling speech in which he claimed climate conditions on Earth were the work of a supreme being, and attempted to discredit a Nasa report that found that 2014 was the hottest year recorded globally to date.

“My point is, God’s still up there,” Inhofe said during a 2012 interview during promotion for his book focusing on global warming as “a conspiracy”.

“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.”

According to Open Secrets, between 1989 and 2022, Inhofe received campaign donations worth almost $4m from energy producers.

As chair of the Senate armed services committee, Inhofe was an advocate for a large US military presence on the world stage, and supported sizable defense spending budgets to pay for it.

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Following the scandal over US service members photographed abusing prisoners at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison in 2004, Inhofe said he “was more outraged at the outrage” than the torture of the inmates.

Inhofe was born on 17 November 1934 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a city he served as mayor from 1978 to 1984.

He was elected to the state house in 1966, aged 31, and state senate three years later.

His career in Washington DC began in 1986 as a US congressman for Oklahoma’s first district, and he won re-election three times before stepping up to the Senate in 1994 when Republican incumbent David Boren became president of the University of Oklahoma.

A keen aviator, Inhofe married his wife, Kay, in 1959, and they had four children. A son, Perry, died in a solo airplane crash in 2013.

Reuters contributed reporting

Source: theguardian.com