The vast majority of scientists who have devoted their professional lives to studying the Earth’s climate believe human-induced warming is an urgent problem requiring bold action. Republican candidates for president insist they know better.
With one possible exception — Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who barely registers in the polls — GOP contenders either doubt the scientific consensus on climate change or oppose attempts to do anything about it. This promises to be one of the starkest ideological divides facing voters next year.
No pressure; it’s only the fate of the planet hanging in the balance.
Before President Obama could even announce his administration’s tough new curbs on carbon emissions from power plants, Republican hopefuls launched pre-emptive attacks. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who flat-out denies that climate change is taking place, accused scientists of “cooking the books” and Democrats of choosing “California environmentalist billionaires and their campaign donations” over “the jobs of union members.” Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida charged that the new rules “will make the cost of electricity high for millions of Americans.” Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called the regulations “unconstitutional” and claimed they would cost jobs.
These comments came at Sunday’s Freedom Partners forum, organized by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch to give GOP candidates a chance to strut their stuff. In that setting, I suppose, reality-based rhetoric would be too much to hope for.
For the record, let’s take a moment to deal with the above-quoted blather, which is typical of the lines of “argument” from the multitudinous GOP field.
To claim there is no atmospheric warming, Cruz cherry-picks one set of satellite measurement data— paying no attention to other data sets, which show continued warming — and chooses 1998 as a starting point. But that year was an obvious outlier; temperatures took a huge and anomalous leap, likely because of an unusually strong El Niño phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean.
Any graph of yearly global temperatures forms a saw-tooth pattern, but the overall trend is unambiguously upward. Cruz and other climate-change deniers ignore the fact that nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since the turn of the century — the one exception being 1998. The deniers also pretend to be unaware that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by a stunning 40% since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when humans began burning fossil fuels in large quantities. Unless Cruz has rewritten the fundamental rules of physics, such as increase has to cause warming.
Rubio claims the new carbon rules will be too expensive for consumers, but he seems not to know that utility companies are already moving away from coal, which releases more carbon dioxide than other fuels such as natural gas. The Obama administration has estimated that electricity prices might rise 4.9% by 2020 — a small price to pay given the stakes.
As for Bush’s claim that the regulations are unconstitutional, the Supreme Court ruled last year that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions by power plants, factories and other polluting facilities. The 7-2 decision was written by Justice Antonin Scalia. Enough said.
The rest of the GOP field ranges from hopeless to hapless on the issue. Front-runner Donald Trump — I can’t believe I wrote those words, but that’s what he is — firmly belongs in the former camp. He has called global warming a “hoax” and once said the whole idea “was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.” Trump has also cited cold winter weather in the United States as “evidence.”
These Republicans seem to forget that the Earth is really, really big — so big that it can be cold in one place, such as Manhattan, and hot in other places. At the very same time.
Of the other candidates, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former New York Gov. George Pataki and businesswoman Carly Fiorina have all at times acknowledged the scientific consensus on climate change but hemmed and hawed about what, if any, action to take. Rick Santorum joins Trump and Cruz in full denial. The rest — Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal, Ben Carson and Jim Gilmore — either aren’t sure warming is taking place or don’t know if humans are causing it.
Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both promise even tougher action against climate change than Obama has taken. This is a very big reason why elections matter.
Eugene Robinson is a columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.