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

The Changing Climate of the Republican Presidential Candidates

Air Date: Week of

(Courtesy of HeathierUS)

Living on Earth’s Jeff Young takes the temperature of Republican presidential candidates on climate change and finds the party's rank and file members out ahead of most of the candidates.


CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts—this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

As the Presidential juggernaut rumbles through snowy New Hampshire, global warming is not the hottest topic. But still, here at Living on Earth, we’ve been following how climate change plays in the campaign. What do voters expect? And what do candidates promise they will do about global warming? Under President Bush, the Republican Party has resisted legislation to limit greenhouse gases.

But our Washington correspondent Jeff Young says more Republican candidates are starting to warm up to the issue.

YOUNG: Former Arkansas Governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee has found a way to communicate about climate change in language that resonates with conservative Republicans. It’s equal parts global warming and gospel.

Former Arkansas Governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee (Courtesy of HeathierUS)

HUCKABEE: We don’t own this earth. We are simply stewards of it—caretakers. We have done no harm if we take better care of this planet and give it to our children with cleaner air, cleaner soil, and cleaner water.

YOUNG: But Huckabee’s taken a curious stand. He says he’ll put a mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions. But he’s not sure those emissions are really to blame.

JENKINS: He’s in favor of a cap on carbon emissions. But he’s still reluctant to admit that man is the cause of global warming. So it’s kind of an odd position.

YOUNG: That’s David Jenkins with the group Republicans for Environmental Protection, which endorsed Arizona Senator John McCain. Jenkins says Huckabee and the other candidates are struggling to figure out just what Republican voters think about climate change.

JENKINS: It seems to be a response to him kind of unsure of where the base is on this and where people who would vote for him would be on this. But I think all the Republican candidates have been a little unsure how much to talk about it because it’s not really been tested with the base.

YOUNG: For example, listen to former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson. When young voters on the campaign trail ask Thompson about climate change he tells them it’s a real problem.

Former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson (Photo: Jim Rydell)

THOMPSON: Climate change is real. We have to take it seriously.

YOUNG: But when Thompson hosted the Paul Harvey radio program just a few months earlier, he poked fun at the very idea of global warming.

THOMPSON: Some people think that our planet is suffering from a fever. Now scientists are telling that Mars is experiencing its own planetary warming—Martian warming. This has led some people to wonder if Mars and Jupiter—non-signatories to the Kyoto Treaty—are actually inhabited by alien SUV-driving industrialists who run their air conditioning at 60 degrees and refuse to recycle.

YOUNG: Thompson found it difficult to reconcile those views when the moderator in
Iowa’s last Republican debate asked this question:

MODERATOR: A show of hands. How many of you believe global climate change is a serious threat and caused by human activity?

THOMPSON: I’m not doing hand shows today.

MCCAIN: John McCain pounced on that question. McCain sponsored the first bill before the U.S. senate to propose mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

Arizona Senator John McCain (Courtesy of John McCain 2008)

MCCAIN: I’ve traveled the world. I know that climate change is real. We’ve got to address it. We can do it with technology and cap and trade. And I’m confident we can pass on to our children and grandchildren a cleaner, better world.

YOUNG: Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney quickly chimed in.

GIULIANI: I agree with John. Climate change is real. It’s happening. I believe human beings are contributing to it. I think the best way to deal with it is through energy independence.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (Courtesy of Rudy Giuliani Presidential Committee, Inc.)

ROMNEY: Yeah. Is global warming an issue for the world? Absolutely. Is it something we can deal with by becoming energy independent and energy secure? We sure can.

YOUNG: But what Giuliani and Romney left out was the fact that they do not agree with Senator McCain when it comes to what they would do about climate change. They both prefer voluntary measures. Giuliani rejects mandates out of hand, and as governor Romney abruptly pulled Massachusetts out of a regional agreement to limit greenhouse gases.

Politically, it’s a question of where they think the voters are. Huckabee and McCain think voters are ready for regulation. Romney and Giuliani think some Republicans would still resist interference in the marketplace.

David Jenkins with Republicans for Environmental Protection says the candidates are unsure because voters are in flux. Not long ago global warming was not even on Republican radar. But Jenkins says that’s no longer the case.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (Courtesy of Flickr/MyTwistedLens)

JENKINS: All the polling we’ve seen of rank and file Republican primary voters has shown that they’re virtually at the same place that Democrat and Independent voters are on being in favor of capping greenhouse gas emissions. But it’s such and odd thing that it goes against conventional wisdom and I think folks are still a little reluctant to go down that road in a very open and vocal way.

YOUNG: Some of the more surprising numbers come from South Carolina, where an overwhelming majority of Republicans say they want emissions of greenhouse gases reduced. South Carolina is a state with an important early primary contest later this month. It’s also home to congressman Bob Ingliss, who has witnessed this shift in Republican opinion firsthand.

INGLISS: I used to pooh-pooh climate change and then my eldest child told me, ‘I’m voting now Dad and you’ll need to clean up your act on the environment.’ So, (laughs) a very important constituency for me—my son!

YOUNG: Ingliss says his son is typical of younger voters who want action while older Republicans remain uncertain. Ingliss has endorsed Huckabee, who he says can appeal to all Republicans by framing climate change within conservative values. The coming days will tell, as candidates focus on South Carolina and New Hampshire, states where Republican voters might demonstrate a newfound concern about their changing climate. For Living on Earth. I’m Jeff Young in Washington.



Republicans for Environmental Protection has more on what GOP voters think of climate change

LOE's complete coverage of green issues in the race for the White House

Mike Huckabee's Presidential campaign website

Senator John McCain's Presidential campaign website

Fred Thompson's Presidential campaign website

Mitt Romney's Presidential campaign website

Rudy Giuliani's Presidential campaign website


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