Six Candidates, Three Debates, ZERO Arguments About Climate Science

, , former science communication officer | October 27, 2014, 4:25 pm EST
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There was a slight thaw in the climate change debate this month. Six candidates for high office – three Republicans and three Democrats – publicly debated what to do about climate change instead of arguing about the science.

Climate and energy issues have taken prominence in the ad war leading up to Election Day. But politicians running for office in coastal states seem to be realizing that they need to debate how to respond to the effects of climate change too, especially as the effects of sea-level rise become increasingly evident to their constituents.

Public perceptions of climate change are moving from the theoretical to the practical. Coastal residents who are watching streets turn into estuaries at high tide, in particular, want to hear about solutions. Politicians have clearly taken notice.

The level of our political discourse around climate change seems to be rising, along with the sea.

Candidates express concerns about rising seas in low-lying Hampton roads

In the Virginia Senate race, Sen. Mark Warner (D) and his Republican challenger Ed Gillespie were asked about rising seas at a forum hosted by the state’s Central Business District Association. Although the event was not recorded, the Associated Press summarized their comments this way:

The Hampton Roads region routinely floods during even minor storms, and flooding is expected to worsen because of sea level rise. Warner said that sea level rise and man-made climate change are clearly linked. He said Gillespie doesn’t believe climate change is caused by humans.

Gillespie denied that characterization. He said in two debates that he’s had with Warner that he believes there’s ample evidence of climate change and that man contributes to it. Gillespie said sea level rise is a major concern and that he believes the federal government has a role to address it, including seeking funding.

In a previous exchange over the summer, Gillespie — the former head of the Republican National Committee — said “I believe there is ample scientific evidence that contributes to climate change but I’m not entirely dismissive of those who have a different point of view…Norfolk is dealing with rising sea levels but people can debate what contributes to that or not.”

Did Gillespie repeat the line about the causes of sea-level rise or his non-dismissal of people who challenge established climate science at the forum? I put in a call to the organizers and a local media outlet looking for a recording—none appears to exist—and contacted Gillespie and Warner’s campaigns to learn more. I’ll update this post if I hear back.

The candidates for governor in Maryland debate climate change. Screengrab from News Channel 8.

The candidates for governor in Maryland debate climate change. Screengrab from News Channel 8.

Maryland candidates agree: climate change is worth “the time and attention of the next governor”

Earlier this month in Maryland, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) and Larry Hogan (R) squared off in a televised gubernatorial debate. At about 18 minutes into this video, News Channel 8’s Bruce DePuyt cited a recent report from my colleagues in his question:

Bruce DePuyt: I’d like to get from each of you, and if you can get it to a word, I would love it. The Union of Concerned Scientists says that we can expect in cities like Annapolis and Washington and many others significant tidal flooding by mid-century. Four hundred times a year was their estimate. Global warming, glaciers melting, sea-level rise, our cities in peril. If you can get it to a word or two I’d be grateful. Do you accept the basic premise that global warming has a connection to human activity and is a significant problem worthy of the time and attention of the next governor?

Larry Hogan: Of course it is. Of course it does.

Anthony Brown: Yes, and unlike Mr. Hogan I do believe a governor in Maryland can make a difference. You know, sustainable growth, transit oriented development, renewable energy, energy efficiencies.

You don’t need to be a scientist to deal with rising seas in Florida

I’ve written previously about last week’s gubernatorial debate in Florida. CNN’s Jake Tapper did an excellent job getting the candidates to focus on policy instead of politicized disagreements about science. Peter Sinclair has helpfully posted a video of the exchange on his blog.

Here’s the rush transcript from LexisNexis, with some light editing based on the video:

CNN’s Jake Tapper: 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?

Gov. Rick Scott: So, what I mean is the solutions. So, the — so, here’s what we’ve done. I’m going to tell you what we’ve done.

We have spent $350 million to deal with sea level rise down in the Keys. We spent — or down in the Miami Area. We spent hundreds of millions dollars to deal with coral reefs. We did an historic settlement with the federal government over the Everglades. We’ve done — we put historic money into our springs.

So, we’re going piece by piece in solving the problems. That’s the right way to do this.

Charlie is going to talk about — look, he’ll have climate change, global warming conferences and then do nothing. He didn’t put money into dealing with sea level rise. He didn’t lift a finger to settle the lawsuit over the Everglades. He didn’t put a dime in to coral reefs. He didn’t put money in to make sure our springs were protected.

But he’ll have a nice conference. He’ll talk a big game. But under Charlie, nothing will happen.

Tapper: Governor Crist?

Charlie Crist: Well, I believe in climate change. I believe in global warming, and I think that man is a significant part in that.

We did have conferences but I signed executive orders, Rick, the nature of which you would never sign, to cut emissions.

Now, why do I believe it’s important to do that? Because I believe in renewable energy, I believe in clean energy, like solar, wind. These are the kind of things that I think are important, instead of continuing to be addicted to gasoline at the pump.

Now, that’s who helps fund your campaign, I guess. But those aren’t the people that I’m looking out for. I’m looking out for people at home. We ought to have more electric cars. We ought to have more solar energy and lower cost.

Jake Tapper: Thank you, Governor.

Learning to disagree about policy instead of science

For several years, nationally prominent politicians have been arguing about whether or not climate change is real. That’s not their job. As my colleague Andrew Rosenberg recently put it in an op-ed, politicians should be able to trust the scientific process, including robust assessment reports such as the National Climate Assessment that lay out the risks of climate change.

According to research from Robert Brulle, a social scientist at Drexel University, political discourse about climate change drives public opinion on the topic. When politicians disagree about science, the public does, too.

It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.

I’m glad to see that at least along our coasts, political discussions are coming into stronger alignment with scientific reality.

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

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  • Jack Wolf

    Perhaps seeing 400,000 at the NYC climate watch woke some people up. Now if those politicians could agree to get rid of fracking with it’s prodigious methane leaks, maybe we can make some immediate inroads on abrupt climate change. Otherwise, it’s nice to have these Republicans on board, but the boat will still be sinking.