Descendant of Noted Climate-Change Denier Apologizes
By Nicholas Giella
MERRIWELL, OKLAHOMA – “As a great-grandfather, he was a wonderful guy. As a U.S. Senator, he was a destructive idiot – he played a major role in wrecking this planet.” So says Robert Inhofe, a great-grandson of James Inhofe who died 34 years ago at age 94. Starting in 2003 and continuing through his retirement from politics in 2025 after eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives and 30 years in the U.S. Senate, James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, was a leading, and effective, denier of climate change. In a July 28, 2003 Senate speech, Inhofe stated, “I have offered compelling evidence that catastrophic global warming is a hoax.” And he often repeated that human-influenced climate change is impossible because “God’s still up there” and that it is “outrageous” and arrogant to believe human beings are “able to change what He is doing to the climate.” Senator Inhofe said the environmentalist movement reminded him of the Third Reich and he compared the EPA to the Gestapo.
“The Corn is as High as a Prairie Dog’s Eye”
“Unfortunately,” says his great-grandson, Robert, “Great-granddad’s words and actions had consequences. For more than two decades he helped block legislation that could’ve helped save us from the mess we’re in. I mean, look all around you.” Saying this, Robert, age 43, points to the dust that covers his farm and ranch outside Merriwell, in the southeastern part of the state, just north of the Red River. “Because of man-made climate change, we’re now in a Dust Bowl, worse than what drove the Okies out in the 1930s. You know the musical Oklahoma? The song where they sing, ‘The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye’? Well, any corn out here – now it doesn’t grow any higher than a prairie dog’s eye. And I have to explain to my children what prairie dogs are – because, thanks to global warming, they’re just about extinct.”
Robert Inhofe is a tall, lanky man who has a degree in sustainable agriculture from Texas A&M but, he says, “There’s no way to practice any kind of agriculture here anymore.” So, while he still lives in the ranch house, which goes back in his wife’s family to the 1890s, he makes his living designing software. Recently, he walked around his property with this reporter. It was a windy day; the wind blew the dust ankle-deep and in some places shin-deep over his cowboy boots. He pointed to a creek bed, now choked with dust, where, he said, when he was eight and nine years old, his great-grandfather took him fishing. “Climate-change deniers like my great-granddad sowed the wind,” said Robert Inhofe, “and we reap the whirlwind. Hosea 8:7.”
“Young people say, ‘We’ve been Gored.’ More accurately, we’ve been Inhofed.”
A deacon in the local Baptist Church, Robert Inhofe says he agrees with James Inhofe that “God’s still up there,” but, he says, “I think He is furious at us. And I’m afraid I’m still furious at my great-grandfather. And since he wouldn’t apologize in his lifetime – he went to his grave in 2029 still railing against the EPA ‘Gestapo’ – I will. And I’ll be kinder to him than he was to the people he attacked. I won’t compare him to a Nazi. But I will compare him to the politicians from the Deep South in the 1950s and 1960s – the bigots, the segregationists, who fought against equal rights for African-Americans. And the politicians in the 2000s and 2010s who fought against gay rights. Did any of their descendants ever apologize for them? Yes? No? No matter, I’ll apologize for him.” Robert Inhofe sighs. “In the musical Oklahoma, the farmers and ranchers sing, ‘The land we belong to is grand.’ Well, not anymore. Great-granddad helped see to that.”
The wind-driven dust drove Robert Inhofe and this reporter inside. In his livingroom, Robert Inhofe pointed to a small, framed photograph of James Inhofe being sworn in as a U.S. Senator in January 1995 by Vice-President Al Gore. Robert Inhofe gave a sad, wry laugh. “Funny how history and words and names get twisted. Young people today – teenagers, my children’s age – they know Al Gore had something to do with climate change but they get it 180 degrees wrong; they think he denied it. So when they talk about the mess we’re in, they say ‘We’ve been Gored.’ Of course, more accurately, we’ve been Inhofed.” This reporter asked, “Do you wish they said that?” Robert Inhofe looked out the window, at the land and sky dark with dust in the early afternoon, and didn’t answer.