Five Republican candidates for president refused to take a simple oath: I believe "global climate change is a serious threat and caused by human activities."
When asked to testify during today's debate in Iowa (Raise your hands if you think climate change presents a serious threat) most refused. (Sen. John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, to their credit, and, somewhat more timidly, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, started to raise their hands before the question was derailed.)
Fred Thompson did the explaining. He didn't argue against the scientific consensus that states that global warming is caused primarily by greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide that comes from burning coal and oil. He didn't argue that the economy wouldn't be able to withstand the transformation to a renewable energy paradigm.
He argued for more time. ("No hands today," Thompson intoned, apparently weary of debate gimmicks.) Romney followed suit with an enthusiastic clapping of the hands.
Eventually the distraction ended and most of the candidates acknowledged, with varying degrees of sincerity, that global warming is real and caused by humans.
McCain, not surprisingly, led with the most detailed and engaged analysis, stating that a cap-and-trade regulation on carbon dioxide would create a free-market approach to dealing with global warming while building up new sectors in the economy. (McCain sponsored the first cap-and-trade legislation for global warming gases, way back in 2003, and Huckabee has been the only other 2008 Republican candidate to endorse a cap-and-trade regulation.) The Arizona senator through in a good line about a generational cost-benefit analysis: If the scientists are wrong, we might spend some money we wouldn't have otherwise; if they are right, we will preserve a better world for our children and grandchildren. (Huckabee, too, has often spoken particularly eloquently about the moral faith-based imperative to preserve the environment, though the how-to details are often left to the imagination.)
Others then echoed that sentiment (Giuliani even threw in a what-John-said for good measure). Romney was notable for a now-familiar bait-and-switch routine: He was asked about climate change, and answered with a statement about "energy independence." (Energy Independence, capital E, capital I, is a much more comfortable issue for Republicans and even some Democrats, because it ties together economic and national security interests more neatly, with a neat little bow around the oil-rich Middle East; Romney is not at all the only candidate to use this debate jujitsu.) Achieving energy independence, goes the thinking, will go a long way toward fixing any problems we may or may have with the climate. That's only true if the details line up, since corn ethanol and coal are available domestically but won't do much to staunch the flow of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The Democrats, in stark contrast, have all outlined detailed energy plans that explicitly confront climate change by setting dramatic goals for reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 80-90% by 2050, investing huge sums in renewable energy and adding on a slew of other related programs. Just about every nation with a line on the world map is meeting this week in Bali to hammer out the plan for dealing with greenhouse gas emissions, in light of the recent United Nations report on the settled state of the science surrounding global warming. Even President Bush, not exactly a champion of global warming regulations, has stated that climate change is an issue that needs to be dealt with. (Remember, way back when Bush was campaigning against Al Gore in 2000, he was for the idea of regulating carbon dioxide, before he was against it.)
Republicans didn't have to endorse any of those sweeping policy prescriptions. And they could have very easily avoided the messiness of political bait-and-switch, debate jujitsu and the like.
They could have just raised their hands.
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