Bob Barr
Bob Barr.

In July, Bob Barr, the Libertarian candidate for president, attended a big climate-change speech by Al Gore and found himself being praised by the former vice president for paying serious attention to the issue. After the speech, Barr issued a statement commending Gore for his “efforts and leadership” on global warming.

But in an appearance on the Glenn Beck show just six days earlier, Barr argued that “global warming is a myth” being foisted upon the country by “internationalists” and “environmental folks.”

So is Barr a climate activist or a climate skeptic?

“We know there’s a problem,” Barr tells Grist. “Exactly how that problem is being caused … is still somewhat unknown.”

Though Barr doesn’t think the science is in on climate change, he says he’d like to see “the marketplace take the lead role” in curbing emissions. He also notes that addressing the problem is “very important to the future of our world, whether one is Republican, Democrat, a conservative, liberal, or in my case, Libertarian.”

Robert Laurence Barr Jr. — better known as just “Bob” — represented Georgia’s 7th district in the U.S. House from 1995 to 2003, when he lost his bid for reelection and fell off the political map for a few years. He reemerged in 2006 as a Libertarian, telling folks he had grown disillusioned with the GOP over issues like privacy and spending. On May 12 of this year, he announced that he would seek the Libertarian nomination for president, and on May 25 he clenched it after six rounds of voting at the Libertarian convention.

Over the course of his career, Barr hasn’t made environmental issues much of a focus. During his time in Congress, he voted against increasing automobile fuel-economy standards and providing incentives for alternative fuels, against implementing parts of the Kyoto Protocol, and in favor of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In 2001, he cosponsored a measure that would have repealed an increase to the federal gas tax, a bill that never gained any traction (though the gas-tax issue has come up again this election cycle).

Barr has been highly critical of John McCain on energy issues, saying the Republican candidate isn’t doing enough to encourage oil drilling, particularly in the Arctic Refuge. He has also slammed McCain’s call for a cap-and-trade program to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, calling it “too premature, way too complex” and a “bureaucratic monstrosity.”

“What we have to do is develop current sources of petroleum in order to keep the economy running in the short term, but in the long term do what Al Gore and other are talking about and that is to develop new sources of energy,” Barr tells Grist.

Barr is aware that he could be a spoiler for McCain in November — the Ralph Nader of 2008, so to speak — but that doesn’t concern him. “I have great respect for Ralph Nader, but I intend to go far beyond what Ralph Nader did.”

Grist caught up with Barr while he was campaigning in Austin, Texas, to talk to him about how he’d address climate and energy concerns as president: