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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Republican Climate Conundrum

Air Date: Week of

As the 2012 president race starts to heat up some Republican candidates are now markedly cool about some statements they made in the past calling for cuts in carbon emissions. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young finds a lively debate within the GOP about how to match up political science with climate science.


GELLERMAN: A strong political wind blowing from the right has some Republican presidential hopefuls wishing they could change their past position on climate change. Many of the GOP candidates once agreed with the vast majority of scientists who say humans are responsible for global warming. But as Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports, in this political climate, those statements are proving to be inconvenient truths.

YOUNG: It’s early in the race for the Republican presidential nomination but the debate on climate change is already heating up. On one side, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, from the past:

[PAWLENTY AD: “If we act now, we can create thousands of new jobs in clean energy industries. So come on congress, let’s get moving. Cap greenhouse gas pollution now!]

YOUNG: On the other side, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, from the present:

PAWLENTY: As to climate change or more specifically cap and trade, I’ve just come out and admitted and said, ‘look, it was a mistake - it was stupid.’

YOUNG: Pawlenty’s first statement came in a 2007 radio spot. Back then, Pawlenty pushed hard for clean energy and a cap on CO2. The second statement came during an interview last month with conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham.

And Pawlenty’s not just backing away from cap and trade. In a recent appearance on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” Pawlenty questioned whether humans are contributing to climate change and accused climate scientists of dishonest behavior.

Former Minn. Gov. Tim Pawlenty at the Conservative Political Action Conference this year. Pawlenty now calls his past support for climate action “stupid.” (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

[PAWLENTY ON “MEET THE PRESS”: “The climate’s obviously changing, but the real question, the more interesting question, is how much of that is man-made, how much of that is the result of natural causes and patterns. Of course we’ve seen a lot of data manipulation.”]

YOUNG: Numerous investigations of climate science found charges of data manipulation to be baseless. And Pawlenty’s “interesting question” about whether warming is man-made has been answered many times, most recently by the National Academy of Sciences, which wrote that climate change is “very likely caused by human activities and poses significant risks.” Pawlenty’s not the only candidate coming under fire for climate change statements from the past. Here’s former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 2007.

GINGRICH: The evidence is sufficient that we should move towards the most effective possible steps to reduce carbon-loading in the atmosphere.

YOUNG: Shortly after that appearance, Gingrich recorded this TV ad, sitting on a loveseat with Democrat Nancy Pelosi.


PELOSI: We don’t always see eye to eye, do we Newt?

GINGRICH: No, but we do agree: our country must take action to address climate change.

PELOSI: We need cleaner forms of energy, and we need them fast.

GINGRICH: If enough of us demand action from our leaders, we can spark the innovation we need.

PELOSI: Go to ‘wecansolveit’ dot org - and together, we can do this.]

YOUNG: This month, talk radio hosts at KTLK made it clear conservatives have not forgotten about that.

Analyzing what happened on the couch. Newt Gingrich joined Nancy Pelosi to call for action on climate change in this spot for Repower America. (Photo courtesy Repower America)


HOST: What WERE you doing on that couch with Nancy Pelosi? (Laughter)

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, if you read what I said on the couch, I said this is a topic worth debating.

HOST: True, true.

GINGRICH: And I said we should be able to find incentives - the specific word I used - we should be able to find incentives to lower the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

YOUNG: Other Republican hopefuls face similar criticism. This is partly due to the tireless work of political operatives like Marc Morano. Morano was once a producer for Rush Limbaugh’s program and more recently communications director for Senator James Inhofe, a prominent climate change denier. Now Morano runs a web site called Climate Depot, which mercilessly attacks Republicans who dare to talk about climate change.

MORANO: Two things: don’t ever talk about it, and if you do, don’t ever support any of the global warming cap and trade bills and UN approach. The candidate could not say, ‘I’m a big believer in man-made global warming,’ and, ‘We must act on it and start talking about UN treaties and/or congressional action or supporting the EPA action.’ That candidate would be D.O.A. in the Republican Party primary process.

YOUNG: Morano points to polls showing interest in climate change dropping. Some other Republicans disagree. David Jenkins is with Republicans for Environmental Protection.

JENKINS: Morano has - you know, he created this web site as part of an advocacy effort against addressing climate change or reducing carbon emissions. And so it’s no surprise at all that he would try to beat up anyone that shows any inclination to take climate change seriously and look for solutions. But he’s not even representative of most Republicans, much less the electorate at large.

YOUNG: Jenkins says polling he sees indicates candidates who deny or ignore climate change are out of step with rank-and-file voters.

JENKINS: A majority of Republicans - you know, they favor some kind of limit on carbon emissions, they favor higher fuel economy standards. So, you know, the Republican electorate is much more diverse. It’s not represented by people who march in lockstep with Glen Beck or Rush Limbaugh.

YOUNG: Former Republican Congressman Bob Inglis of South Carolina knows his party’s politics on this issue all too well. Inglis lost in last year’s Republican primary mostly, he says, because he said climate change was real.

INGLIS: Yeah, it is amazing to think that just listening to the scientists is seen as some sort of a heresy.

YOUNG: Inglis does not like what he sees in the early stages of the Republican presidential race.

INGLIS: Some folks are pandering - pandering to some very fearful people. And what we need is people to lead, not to pander. When you hear somebody say, you know, ‘climate change is a bunch of hooey’ because they heard it on talk radio or talk TV - if you’re a leader, you need to say, ‘well, you know, have you read what the National Academy of Sciences says - they say that this is happening, and it’s not conservative to ignore the advice of these scientists.’

YOUNG: Inglis is now working on a plan for greenhouse gas reduction that’s rooted in conservative politics. But until one emerges, Republican candidates face a tough race if they call for action on climate change. For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young.



American’s Climate Choices report from the National Academies

Republicans for Environmental Protection

Marc Morano’s Climate Depot


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