Shifting Views on Climate Change
In written statements posted on Tuesday at the Web site of Sciencedebate.org, the candidates added some clarity to their views on global warming, but in a way that also raised some questions about their consistency.
Sciencedebate.org, which counts among its members the National Academies, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Scientific American magazine and dozens of other professional and academic scientific societies, was created with the goal of raising the profile of scientific and technical questions in the presidential campaign.
In his response to the group’s question on climate change, Mr. Obama called it “one of the biggest issues of this generation” but stopped short of calling for a cap and trade system or other broad national policy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, something that he had favored during the 2008 campaign. He said his administration had set stricter limits on emissions from vehicles, invested billions in clean energy research and proposed the first limits on carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. He also said that the United States was leading international negotiations on climate change, although those talks have so far had little impact on greenhouse gas levels worldwide.
Mr. Romney, whose views – or at least, his language – on climate change have shifted somewhat over the years, gave one of his most forceful statements on the question yet. “I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences,” he wrote.
“However, there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue – on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution and the severity of the risk – and I believe we must support continued debate and investigation within the scientific community.”
That is a distinct shift from last October, when Mr. Romney said: “We don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”
Andrea Saul, a Romney spokeswoman, said on Wednesday that there was no inconsistency between his current statement and his October comment. “Nothing he said in October is inconsistent with his position,” she wrote in an e-mail message. “He believes it’s occurring, and that human activity contributes to it, but he doesn’t know to what extent.”
In his statement to the science group, Mr. Romney criticized the president’s approach to global warming, saying that when Congress rejected his cap and trade proposal, Mr. Obama proposed federal regulations that would bankrupt the coal industry, raise manufacturing costs and drive jobs overseas. He was also critical of the president’s international efforts, saying that the United States has done nothing to curb emissions in the developing world and that unilateral action by this country would simply shift manufacturing to nations with looser environmental laws.
Mr. Romney said he supported government financing for clean energy technology development and a reduction in regulation to allow faster deployment of new and existing energy sources, including nuclear power.
The 2012 Republican platform makes little mention of climate change except to criticize the Obama administration for raising it to the status of a national security threat. In his nomination acceptance speech last week, Mr. Romney ridiculed a statement that Mr. Obama made at the end of the 2008 primaries that future generations would look back at his nomination as the moment when “the rise of the oceans began to slow and our plant began to heal.”
“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet,” Mr. Romney said in his convention speech. My promise is to help you and your family.”
The 2012 Democratic platform is less muscular on the subject than the 2008 version. The 2008 version refers to climate change as an “epochal, man-made threat to the planet” and called for dramatic changes in energy production and consumption through an economy-wide cap and trade system.
In 2012, with the economy still reeling from the effects of the recession, the party moderated its tone, referring to climate change as “one of the biggest threats of this generation” and a “catastrophe in the making.” The platform calls for accelerated efforts to develop clean energy sources, but makes no mention of cap and trade or a carbon tax to drive down greenhouse gas emissions.
We’ll wait to see what President Obama will say on the subject when he accepts his party’s nomination on Thursday night . . .