Ron PaulNo war for oil, and no action for climate, says Ron Paul.Photo: Gage SkidmoreRon Paul kicked off his presidential bid on Tuesday, in the customary loosey-goosey exploratory-committee way. As standard-bearer for the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, the U.S. rep from southeast Texas has a small but diehard following. His fans will make some racket in conservative circles, as during his 2008 run, and he still won’t have a chance in hell of winning the GOP nomination, as during his 2008 run. 

Paul’s government-can-do-no-right philosophy leads him to oppose energy and farm subsidies — something many green-minded people can at least respect. Ditto with his opposition to wars over oil. His contention that the EPA is useless, well, not so much.

Climate change

Paul has never had much to offer in the way of climate policy, not even back when he acknowledged that climate change might be a bit of a problem — and more recently he’s taken the Inhofe-ian view that global warming is a big ol’ hoax.

In a 2007 interview with Grist, Paul said, “I think some of it [global warming] is related to human activities, but I don’t think there’s a conclusion yet.” In an interview with the Freakonomics guys in late 2008, Paul again raised questions about how much humans are to blame for changes in the climate, but acknowledged that “[c]learly there is something afoot” and “science shows that human activity probably does play a role in stimulating the current fluctuations.” He continued, “I think there are common-sense steps we can take to cut emissions and preserve our environment.”

But the next year, he sounded much more the skeptic: “there is no consensus in the scientific community that global warming is getting worse or that it is manmade,” he wrote, going on to cite a thoroughly debunked anti-climate-science petition. Then in an interview on Fox News on Nov. 4, 2009, Paul slid still further down the skeptic slope: “the greatest hoax I think that has been around for many, many years if not hundreds of years has been this hoax on the environment and global warming.” 

As one might expect, Paul was not a fan of the cap-and-trade bill that passed the House in 2009; he warned that it would “put another nail in the economy’s coffin.” In May 2009, Paul signed the “No Climate Tax Pledge” promoted by the Koch brothers’ group Americans for Prosperity.

Energy subsidies

While Paul has wobbled on climate science, he’s been more consistent in his prescription for eliminating energy subsidies. Here’s how he put it in the 2008 Freakonomics interview:

We should start by ending subsidies for oil companies. And we should never, ever go to war to protect our perceived oil interests. If oil were allowed to rise to its natural price, there would be tremendous market incentives to find alternate sources of energy. At the same time, I can’t support government “investment” in alternative sources either, for this is not investment at all.

Government cannot invest, it can only redistribute resources. Just look at the mess government created with ethanol. Congress decided that we needed more biofuels, and the best choice was ethanol from corn. So we subsidized corn farmers at the expense of others, and investment in other types of renewables was crowded out.

Now it turns out that corn ethanol is inefficient, and it actually takes more energy to produce the fuel than you get when you burn it. The most efficient ethanol may come from hemp, but hemp production is illegal and there has been little progress on hemp ethanol. And on top of that, corn is now going into our gas tanks instead of onto our tables or feeding our livestock or dairy cows; so food prices have been driven up. This is what happens when we allow government to make choices instead of the market; I hope we avoid those mistakes moving forward.

… and bikes

Paul told Grist that cycling is his favorite outdoor activity — but not for environmental reasons. “I don’t ride my bike because I think I’m destroying the environment by driving my car; I ride it because it’s a great way to be outdoors and enjoy the environment,” he said.

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Read Grist’s 2007 interview with Ron Paul.

Find out where other GOP presidential contenders stand on climate.