So I managed to avoid all but press accounts of the Couric-Palin interview for far too long, and when I finally sat down to watch it, I was impressed all over again about the Alaskan governor's ideas about global warming.
Just a month or so before being tapped as John McCain's vice presidential running mate, she said she didn't "attribute it to being man-made". Then, in her interview with Charles Gibson in mid-September, she unveiled her new talking point, that global warming may be caused, in part, by humans, but that what matters is that we do something about it, specifically: "cut down on pollution".
She more or less repeated that in her interview last week with Katie Couric. Here's what she said:
Couric: What's your position on global warming? Do you believe it's man-made or not?
Palin: Well, we're the only Arctic state, of course, Alaska. So we feel the impacts more than any other state, up there with the changes in the climate. And certainly, it is apparent. We have erosion issues. And we have melting sea ice, of course. So, what I've done up there is form a sub-cabinet to focus solely on climate change, understanding that it is real. And...
Couric: Is it man-made, though in your view?
Palin: You know there are -- there are man's activities that can be contributed to the issues that we're dealing with now, with these impacts. I'm not going to solely blame all of man's activities on changes in climate because the world's weather patterns are cyclical. And over history we have seen change there. But it kind of doesn't matter at this point, as we debate what caused it. The point is: it's real; we need to do something about it.
Transcript and video (the climate talk is around minute 5) from CBS.
Here's why it does matter what causes global warming: If we're causing it, we can solve it. If it's natural and cyclical, we can't. Believing that our influence on the climate is nonexistent, insignificant or uncertain is wrong, if you believe in science -- that is, if you believe in repeatedly testing a hypothesis with real-world experiments until scientists agree that they have defined a theory that explains the world and can't be disproven by further experiments.
Knowing that Palin would commit to "doing something" about climate change, despite apparent misgivings about what causes it is only marginally comforting, since it seems that her grasp of the underlying scientific argument is weak, and apparently influenced by the same sort of arguments that held up action on climate change for so long. Namely, the oil-company funded think-tank "experts" that advertised false controversy among climate scientists, when in fact a strong consensus had long ago emerged that global warming is real, it is largely caused by burning fossil fuels, and it will cause serious problems if left unabated.
Alaska is no stranger to oil-funded political influence; even if Palin has been celebrated as someone who can stand up to oil companies and corruption, she's also been a staunch supporter of increased fossil fuel exploitation.
It matters that you "get" the science, because leading the world in a response that is aggressive enough to meet the challenge requires it. McCain is much more clear-headed and well-spoken on this issue than his running mate, and we can expect that he holds the trump card on the issue. Still, global warming is one of those issues on which McCain has played maverick to GOP orthodoxy. Green voters could feel more comfort if is right-hand woman shared his passion.
We've had a president for eight years who campaigned on a promise to regulate carbon dioxide, only to rein in his campaign promise in the face of industry pressure masquerading as scientific controversy. Meanwhile, world emissions continue to rise, the Arctic is melting to an unprecedented degree, weird weather is breaking out during unexpected seasons and in unexpected places, and the scientific data keeps piling up that the worst-case scenarios are closer to real-time scenarios than anyone anticipated.
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