In recent weeks, three prominent Republicans — Mitt Romney, Chris Christie and Jon Huntsman — have publicly affirmed their belief in climate change and the need to reduce pollution. This is good news!
But as far as I can tell, they don’t have a plan to address the issue between the three of them.
The most recent was Mitt Romney, the presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor with a tendency to play both sides of every issue. At a town hall style campaign event in New Hampshire on Friday, Romney said:
I don’t speak for the scientific community, of course, but I believe the world’s getting warmer. I can’t prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer. And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that. I don’t know how much our contribution is to that, because I know that there have been periods of greater heat and warmth in the past but I believe we contribute to that. And so I think it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you’re seeing.
This isn’t the first time Mitt Romney has sounded like an environmentalist. In 2003, he told his constituents that he would not “not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people,” while pointing at a coal plant. But six weeks ago he told Greta Van Susteren that he would lower gas prices by drilling for oil and burning lots of coal:
Well, you get the prices down by convincing people who are investing in gasoline futures, so to speak, the speculators — you let them understand that America is going to be producing enough energy for our needs. And that means we’re going to start drilling for oil. We’re going to use our natural gas resources, which are now extraordinarily plentiful, given new technology. We’re going to use our coal resources. Of course, we’re going to pursue all the renewables, but you have to have oil and gas to power America’s economy.
And at today’s town hall at the University of New Hampshire, Romney downplayed clean energy and electric cars. “I love solar and wind (power) but they don’t drive cars. And we’re not all going to drive Chevy Volts,” he said. He also warned against working to solve the problem unless China and Brazil were participating in the solution, reminding the crowd that “it’s not called American warming, it’s called global warming.”
When you have over 90% of the world’s scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role it’s time to defer to the experts. Climate science is complex though and we’re just beginning to have a fuller understanding of humans’ role in all of this. But we know enough to know that we are at least a part of the problem. So looking forward, we need to work to put policies in place that act at reducing those contributing factors.
But at the same time, Christie announced that New Jersey would be leaving the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a 10-state, voluntary cap and trade system designed to reduce emissions. The New Jersey Sierra Club credited the governor with destroying “the first and most successful greenhouse gas reduction program in the country.” Brad Plumer convincingly argues that Christie had to distance himself from climate policy in order to play on the national stage.
In mid-May it was Jon Hunstman, the former Utah Governor and President Obama’s former Ambassador to China, forging the path that Chris Christie and Mitt Romney later followed. “This is an issue that ought to be answered by the scientific community; I’m not a meteorologist. All I know is 90 percent of the scientists say climate change is occurring,” he told Time Magazine. “If 90 percent of the oncological community said something was causing cancer we’d listen to them. I respect science and the professionals behind the science so I tend to think it’s better left to the science community.”
If he had stopped there, that would have been fine. He meant climatologist and the 90% figure is low (it is more like 97%), but no major harm was done. But then he added, “though we can debate what that means for the energy and transportation sectors.” Asked about cap and trade, Huntsman kept digging. “Cap-and-trade ideas aren’t working; it hasn’t worked, and our economy’s in a different place than five years ago,” he said, concluding, “much of this discussion happened before the bottom fell out of the economy, and until it comes back, this isn’t the moment.”
Romney and Christie both went further than Huntsman did, saying we have to reduce emissions. And Huntsman and Christie both cited the same inaccurate 90% figure, with Huntsman even paraphrasing Al Gore with the doctor/scientist comparison. But what sticks out the most about their remarks is that all three are opposed to doing anything productive to solve the problem. If any of these three has a plan for dealing with climate change that doesn’t include cap and trade, a carbon tax or massive investments in clean energy, they should explain what their plan is and how it would work.