Climate deniers take the stage at GOP debate

This blog was written by Jennifer Rennicks, former Senior Director of Policy & Communications at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | September 7, 2011 | Climate Change, Elections, Energy Policy

When Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) tossed his hat in the ring seeking the GOP presidential nomination he made quite a splash. During his first week on the campaign trail, Perry shared his thoughts on evolution vs. creationism, called Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernake’s financial strategy ‘treasonous‘ and made it clear he’s skeptical of climate science and human-influenced global warming.

“I do believe that the issue of global warming has been politicized. I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. I think we’re seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change. Yes, our climates change. They’ve been changing ever since the earth was formed. But I do not buy into, that a group of scientists, who in some cases were found to be manipulating this data.” — Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Aug. 17, 2011

In his 2010 book, Fed Up, Perry claims that climate change is “a contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight.”  On the contrary says Texas state climatologist, Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, who noted that:

“the historic drought in Texas has intensified as a consequence of climate change because it has raised temperatures a degree or two on the Fahrenheit scale from what they would be otherwise.”  Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, August 2011

While a quick fact check debunks Perry’s claim that “more and more scientists are questioning global warming,” he isn’t the only presidential contender loudly questioning climate science. Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R), considers global warming “a hoax“:

“And the science indicates that human activity is not the cause of all this global warming. And that in fact, nature is the cause, with solar flares, etc.” — Rep. Michele Bachmann, March, 2009

Fortunately, not all contenders for the GOP nomination deny the validity of climate science. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman recently tweeted, “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”  And earlier this summer, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney made his position on global warming clear when he said:

“I don’t speak for the scientific community, of course,’’ Romney said. “But I believe the world’s getting warmer. I can’t prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer. And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that … so I think it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you’re seeing. ” — former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, June 2011

While many leaders will play a role in developing the suite of policies needed to adequately address and mitigate the impacts of climate change, the President of the United States arguably has the largest microphone and podium.  All contenders for this job will have the temporary use of the bully pulpit to try to influence a range of policy outcomes in the long term, if not the support of voters in the shorter term.

Residents of the Southeastern United States, a region highly vulnerable to climate impacts ranging from sea level rise to prolonged drought, should pay careful attention to what candidates say – and don’t say – specific to climate change and energy policy in upcoming presidential debates, starting with the Reagan Library televised debate tonight. We need leaders willing to confront the climate challenges posed to our region and offer workable, bipartisan solutions.  What we don’t need are more climate deniers who have their heads in the sand.

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