CNN’s Jake Tapper Asks the Right Question on Climate Change in Florida Governor’s Debate

, , former science communication officer | October 22, 2014, 3:34 pm EDT
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Too often, journalists ask politicians questions about climate change that only reinforce polarized and misleading messages about climate science. That didn’t happen last night.

Jake Tapper grills the candidates for Florida’s governorship in an October 21 debate. Via CNN.com.

Jake Tapper grills the candidates for Florida’s governorship in an October 21 debate. Via CNN.com.

In the final Florida gubernatorial debate between Rick Scott and Charlie Crist, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked an excellent question about climate change that elevated the debate. Previously, Gov. Scott had answered a question about climate change by saying he’s “not a scientist.” Here’s Tapper’s question (via Lexis-Nexis):

Governor Scott, I want to move on to one other job, that scientists in the state are very concerned about — people who live near the beach are very concerned about climate change. Whenever you’re asked about whether or not climate change is caused by men in part or in whole, you say you’re not a scientist.

But you are a governor. Doctors advise you on Ebola. Economists advise you on the economy.

Why are you so reluctant to believe the overwhelming majority of scientists who say that man contributes to climate change?

To his credit, Gov. Scott didn’t challenge the science in his response. He and Crist argued instead about who would accomplish more on adaptation and whether or not the state should prioritize reducing emissions.

Tapper’s question, and the candidate’s answers, helped inform voters about what the candidates would actually do about climate change, if elected. The debate therefore didn’t repeat tired, discredited arguments about climate science. Credit is also due to several scientists who sat down with the governor earlier this year to brief him on climate science.

Asking politicians what they want to do, not what they think

Nevertheless, it’s easy for politicians to dodge, even when they’re asked good questions about the science. Over the past few years, journalists have asked New Jersey Governor Chris Christie whether or not he thinks climate change caused Sandy several times, for instance. When NBC’s Matt Lauer asked an informed, pointed question about Sandy and sea level rise, Gov. Christie still answered by saying there was no definitive proof of a link and even dismissed scientists’ work as an “esoteric theory.” (See his response at the 3:30 mark here.)

A better question for journalists at the time might have been to ask the governor how he was accounting for sea level rise in the state’s rebuilding plans. That’s more relevant to his job, after all, and it’s probably the area where climate science can do the most to inform public policy along the Jersey Shore. It’s a question that still needs asking — and answering — today.

While there’s probably no perfect way to ask politicians about climate change, it’s clear that asking them about their plans – and anticipating their dodges – is a good way to keep the public informed about where they stand on the decisions that matter.

Posted in: Global Warming, Science and Democracy, Science Communication Tags: , , , , ,

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  • MikeNov

    If you are claiming Hurricane Sandy is the result of global warming, then it is you who are at odds with science.

  • Munawar Memon

    We will surely know before drowning that climate has changed.

  • dogggg4591

    absolute certainty only exist in religious canon. it does not exist in scientific theory. a theory can have a probability of 99.9999%, never 100% certainty

  • mememine

    We need certainty from science not from a mob of exaggerating conservative hating liberals.
    What climate scientist has ever said that it is their own “scientific method” is what prevents them from saying a “threat to the planet” is “proven” and “100% certain”? If science can’t say it then nobody can especially when it’s about a GLOBAL CO2 CLIMATE CRISIS.

    • Nick Naylor

      If 9700 scientists said they were 95% sure that an asteroid was about to destroy all life on Earth, but 300 scientists said they weren’t so sure, maybe YOU would ignore the warning. And anyone with any sense would ignore you.

      • Poor analogy since those who say it will be dangerous can’t say exactly when and there are many varying opinions on the extent of the damage.

        Bob Clark