As the Paris conference kicks off, let’s remember that not all the Republican candidates are completely awful on climate change. But predictably, they’re stuck at the bottom of the polls.
As we saw over the weekend, the cat had a firm hold on most of the GOP candidates’ tongues when it came to the Planned Parenthood terrorist attack. So tremulous are they at the thought of bringing offense to the more extreme anti-abortion elements of their base that they couldn’t even rouse themselves to be outraged at the killing of a police officer (credit must be given to Mike Huckabee of all people, who called the tragedy “domestic terrorism” and hailed the felled officer as a hero).
But something tells me that this week, they’ll manage to shake that cat away if President Obama and the 120 or so other world leaders gathering in Paris today manage to hammer out a global agreement on fighting climate change. They’ll no doubt find an agreement to save the future of the planet and the present and future human beings inhabiting it will be worthy of plenty of comment. And we can be sure it will be uniformly embarrassing to the United States.
Interestingly, the Republicans’ positions on climate change aren’t uniformly embarrassing and reactionary. There are shades. One of them has even said explicitly that he will take steps to fight climate change as president. Unfortunately, the ones taking these quasi-reasonable positions are, unsurprisingly, the ones polling in the low single digits.
Lindsey Graham is the one who has not only acknowledged that global warming exists and is largely caused by human activity but has also pledged to do something about it if elected. Of course, the words “if elected” in a sentence that starts “Lindsey Graham” carry about the same weight as the words “if beatified” in a sentence that starts “John Gotti.” But hey, give the guy credit for saying stuff like this: “I’ve been to the Antarctic,” Graham told a New Hampshire audience last month. “I’ve been to Greenland. I’ve been to Alaska and I’ve heard from people who live in these regions how the climate is changing. And when 90 percent of climatologists tell you that it’s real, who am I to tell them they don’t know what they’re talking about?” At least Graham understands that you can’t go around starting a bunch of wars if there’s no world left to fight them in.
Then we have Jeb Bush, who sometimes tries to sound kind of reasonable on the topic. In late July, he acknowledged the existence of climate change and the human role in it. He then went on to say that he’d toss Obama’s new rules on power plants. And in June, he’d rebuked Pope Francis for issuing his climate encyclical, saying the Pope is “not a scientist,” even though, in fact, he kinda-sorta is, or was.
So that gives us one guy at 1 percent and another guy who entered the race as the second coming of, well, his brother but is now down near Graham territory. Also, astonishingly enough, Bobby Jindal wasn’t so bad on this issue. But he of course dropped out because he had zero support. He was apparently even at risk of getting kicked out of the kids’ table.
As for the rest of them, it’s a big wall of no. NPR assembled this handy chart in August showing us where all the candidates stand on six specific climate-related questions. The first two are 1) accepts that global warming is real and 2) accepts a human role in causing it. In other words, if you don’t answer these first two with a yes, then you’re defying the 97 percent consensus of the scientific community, and you’re obviously not going to do a thing about it.
Of the three who seem today like they might plausibly be the GOP nominee—Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz—only Rubio says “yes” on anything at all. But that’s only to the first question. Back in January, the Senate voted on a resolution that said “climate change is real and human activity significantly contributes” to it. It won 50-49 (although under the Senate’s super-majority rules it failed to pass). Graham, sure enough, voted for it, as did four other Republicans. Rubio, along with Cruz, voted no. For his part, Cruz has called climate change “the perfect pseudoscientific theory” because “it can never be disproved”—you know, sort of like allegations that Chuck Hagel was in bed with the North Koreans.
So 120-plus countries, which is about two-thirds of the world, are gathering to talk about an unprecedented international response to global warming. And after Paris, reports the Times, nearly 200 countries, which is pretty much the whole world, are “widely expected” to sign a deal to “take concrete steps to cut emissions.”
And here we are, with a country that’s being held hostage by a minority that won’t endorse anything the world agrees to. Congress will block funding for any deal struck in Paris. States with Republican governors are suing the administration to beat the band. And if Trump, Cruz, or Rubio becomes president, all bets are off. It’s a sad week for the United States, the kind that makes people around the world look at us and wonder what’s wrong with us. It’s not “us”; large majorities of Americans support taking action. No, it’s just them. As usual.
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