Can Republican Politicians Change Their Tune on Climate and Energy?

, former science communication officer | March 6, 2015, 2:25 pm EDT
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When former Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) ran for president in 2011, he flatly rejected climate science and even claimed that scientists had manipulated climate data. But last week, in response to a question about climate and energy issues at the Conservative Political Action Conference, he touted his environmental record, instead.

Rick Perry speaking at CPAC on February 27th. Source: C-Span 3

Rick Perry speaking at CPAC on February 27th. Source: C-Span 3

Perry told the audience of conservative activists that his administration had used “thoughtful incentive-based regulation” to reduce emissions, including of carbon dioxide, the chief heat-trapping gas that causes climate change. As an aside, he noted this was a good thing, “whether you believe in this whole concept of climate change or not.”

“The point is that you can have job creation and you can make your environment better,” he added. has more on the substance behind his answer, but the message is important here, too. Perry’s answer wasn’t about his personal opinions regarding climate science; it was about his record. And when politicians talk about their records, we can have real debates about climate and energy policy. When they talk about their personal beliefs regarding climate science, we often wind up having misleading debates about the validity of scientific research, instead.

Perry’s statement about whether or not his audience accepts or rejects the science bears further examination, too. About half of Republican and Republican-leaning citizens accept the evidence that the climate is changing and even more support steps to address it. While the activist audience at CPAC is more likely to reject the science than other conservative audiences, Perry didn’t reference scientific misinformation in his answer. Indeed, there was still a climate science misinformation panel at CPAC, but it was more sideshow than main event.

Some Republican politicians are cautioning their party about the risks of relying on misinformation about climate science. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) told CPAC two years ago that Republicans shouldn’t hazard being perceived as “anti-science,” a sentiment Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) echoed after a series of senate votes on climate science earlier this year.

While other presidential aspirants might be tempted to appeal to parts of their base by rejecting climate science, Gov. Perry’s CPAC speech demonstrates there’s simply no need to do so.

A letter from Marco Rubio offers more than a rejection of science, points to paths forward on policy

I’ve argued that it’s often more important to ask politicians about what they are doing on climate and energy issues rather than their personal opinions about the science. Such questions get to the actual job politicians have to do rather than the politicized rejection of established science that pervades climate discussions at the national level.

Katie Couric asking Sen. Marco Rubio about climate change around minute 27 of their full interview. (Source: Yahoo! News)

Katie Couric asking Sen. Marco Rubio about climate change around minute 27 of their full interview. (Source: Yahoo! News)

That’s why I was surprised to see a recent email a Florida researcher shared with us from Sen. Marco Rubio (R) regarding climate change. The email – which the senator’s office presumably sends to many constituents who write about climate change – repeats statements Sen. Rubio has made to the media that cast unjustified doubt on how industrial activities cause climate change. But then, Rubio’s email continues:

That does not mean we should ignore climate change.  I strongly support efforts in Florida and elsewhere to mitigate against the effects of severe weather and flooding. We should also encourage new technologies and innovations to promote energy efficiency and energy diversity.

The letter also references Rubio’s support for the America INNOVATES Act (S. 1937) and his commitment to working “with my colleagues on a bipartisan level to craft policies encouraging economic growth while protecting the environment.”

I was happy to see the latter part of this email. It would be great to see Sen. Rubio make more of those statements in public venues, too, especially as he faces more questions about his positions on climate and energy issues.

More importantly, Floridians need concrete support from their political leaders when it comes to preparing for a warming world. Cities and counties in Florida face mounting costs related to sea-level rise and the country’s flood insurance programs are under ever-increasing strain.

Sen. Rubio has the opportunity to lead on issues like this.

He should take it.

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

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  • 3GSimpleton

    “The email – which the senator’s office presumably sends to many
    constituents who write about climate change – repeats statements Sen.
    Rubio has made to the media that cast unjustified doubt on how
    industrial activities cause climate change.”

    Good for him. Keep it up Sen. Rubio!!! Keep it up!

    The only thing “unjustified” is the belief in climate change by those who would cripple our industries.

    • So when do we figure out how to pay for sea-level rise? I’m waiting for a politician who doesn’t like national emissions reduction policies, but has an aggressive plan for dealing with adapting to climate change.

      • 3GSimpleton

        And I’m waiting for the ones who will focus on the real issue:

        Poor land usage decisions.

        It’s time to stop building on flood plains and on the shoreline next to the ocean.

        Land use decisions are the real culprit behind these concerns. The ocean has always risen and receded…so says the paleo record. The problem is the broken assumption that there is an “ideal” or “correct” sea level. It demonstrates a wholesale disregard for the power of nature and a disrespect for the history of the planet. It’s time to acknowledge we cannot control nature, and we should keep a respectful distance from areas where nature is likely to reclaim what we put there. That goes for volcanos, earthquake faults, drought-prone areas…all of the usual “climate change” bugaboos.

        We need better land use decisions in the first place.

      • Regarding “ideal” or “correct” sea-levels, I don’t think that’s how scientists think of it. Yes, sea-levels have changed in the past, usually slowly. Now they are changing more rapidly — and rising — due to modern climate change. So most discussions I’ve seen on land use, coastal planning and sea-level rise start with the assumption that we’ve built up our coasts based on the climate of the last 30-50 years or so. Now, climate change is shifting the baseline of flooding risks, so scientists are saying it should be one of many variables we consider when it comes to land use on the coasts. Overall, this doesn’t have to be an either-or thing. It’s often more about integrating climate science into things we’re already doing, like coastal planning.

        Thanks for saying more; interesting to see that your conclusions aren’t that far apart from some recommendations from free market groups and environmentalists that are worried about climate risks. (Also, I grew up in New Jersey along Barnegat Bay, so I’ve seen some of this play out there, too.)

      • 3GSimpleton

        We agree on much.

        I believe in good environmental stewardship, conservation of our natural resources, better urban and rural planning and land use decisions, reducing pollution sources…most things an “environmentalist” would readily support.

        I reject in its entirety the notion that CO2 causes climate change.

        And…I see no inconsistency at all in the above two statements.

      • LenRunciter

        You don’t believe that CO2 causes temperatures to warm, thus causing a change to the earth’s climate?
        There isn’t one serious scientist that would agree with you, even if they downplay the dangers of AGW. Not one.

      • 3GSimpleton

        Oh…if you meant a tiny-teeny infinitesimally small amount, which we haven’t been able to discern very well over the last couple of decades of the satellite record…

        then, sure.

        If you mean the kind that causes floods and droughts, more and less snowfall, “weird” and “dirty” weather, climate refugees, more hurricanes, stronger hurricanes, no hurricanes, civil wars, famine, extinctions and every other calamity one can think of…

        then, no.

      • LenRunciter

        Nah, I mean the kind that is a greenhouse gas that causes warming, n’est pas?

      • 3GSimpleton

        Of course, the kind that’s caused warming…

        …like the tiny-teeny infinitesimally small amount, which we haven’t been able to
        discern very well over the last couple of decades of the satellite

      • LenRunciter

        Past couple of decades? Stay on topic…its for the last 100 +years.

      • 3GSimpleton

        “…its [sic] for the last 100 +years.”

        What is? Your willful ignorance of reality? The ineffectiveness of CO2? Poorly formed sentences?


      • Please respect this blog’s comment policy by refraining from “obscene, rude or disruptive” language. Any posts that violate this will be removed.

      • 3GSimpleton


      • LenRunciter

        I always know those who start lose the debate by their level of anger…try to stay on topic.

        Here, this may help you, since you stated “warming” and I said its been happening for 100+years, and not decades:

      • 3GSimpleton

        Then again…

        You are free to pick your data, and to present it as you wish.

        I would point our that your Y-axis spans one degree K, while your X-axis spans over 130 years. So…1 K per 130 years is the rate of warming shown here.

        I will refer you to the satellite data, corroborated by balloon and radiosonde data, as compared with CMIP5 model runs. One can see at a glance that the CMIP5 models are running way too hot, and that the “projections” [silly and unscientific as the term is] relied upon by the IPCC to claim impending disasters are in fact bunk.

        In fact, the observation now lie something close to sigma bounds for over 95% of the model runs. Will you admit that:

        The warming shown in your chart is trivial.
        The current rate of warming is closer to 0 K per 25 years.
        The IPCC projections are contradicted by observations.
        The CMIP5 models are unvalidated and incapable of being used for informing policy decisions.

      • LenRunciter

        You’re picking your data…you chose satellite data because it gives you a more acceptable answer…not the answer you really want because it to shows warming, just less warming. Its why you pick an choose Curry’s MODEL for CO2 sensitivity (it is a MODEL).

        But OK, pick satellite data. Let me refer you to Remote Sensing Systems…you know them, right? They too use satellite data…they are the ones who sadly had to correct Roy Spencer for his initial mistakes in satellite data. But I’ll play in your ballpark.

        “Over the past 35 years, the troposphere has warmed significantly. The global average temperature has risen at an average rate of about 0.13 degrees Kelvin per decade (0.23 degrees F per decade).”

        “My view is that the subduction of heat into the ocean is very likely a significant part of the explanation for the model/observation discrepancies.”

        Now, RSS says that the warming that has taken place in the troposphere is less than models predicted, but sadly for you it still shows warming that is only explained by AGW.

        I would also point out that there is now a recent study from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory published in Nature, and they they predict that global average temperature will be increasing at a rate of 0.25 C° per decade by 2020. That rate of change would be “unprecedented for at least the past 1,000 years.”
        Warming that is not so trivial, eh 3gS? By the way, let me know when you have anything near a citation from science rather than your own ramblings.

      • 3GSimpleton

        To which I say:

        From 1990 to 2015, or the last quarter century, RSS data for the lower troposphere shows warming at the rate of 0.25 K per 25 years. That equates to a rate of 1 K per century, which is what I have written elsewhere.

        So spin it however you like, but your preferred data shows exactly what I said.

        Oh…and that whole the “heat is hiding in the ocean” thingy that Trenberth came up with is falling short. Seems no one can find the “missing heat”…at least insofar as ACTUAL observations are concerned.

      • LenRunciter

        Indeed, you have written elsewhere that “small” equals “inconsequential,” and as I showed you then, its a silly assertion on your part.

        From Feb. of this year:

        “Ocean temperatures around the world are steadily creeping upward, according to a new study from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. On average, things are warming at a yearly rate of 0.005° C (0.009° F) in the top 500 meters of ocean. Deeper down, between 500 meters and 2,000 meters waters are heating about 0.002° C (0.0036° F) a year. Those numbers may seem small, but lead author Dean Roemmich says it takes a lot of energy to produce a change like that.”

      • 3GSimpleton

        Whether it’s based on ARGO, or HADSST, or Reynolds, or the NCDC dataset…just about anyone would agree that any conclusions drawn from such data would have an uncertainty at least +/- 0.02 DEG C, at around 95% confidence interval.

        Please note I am being very generous with the above statement.

        How you conclude that 0.005 DEG C is significant in the face of such uncertainties is beyond me.

        “Those numbers may seem small…”

        Statistically speaking, not are they only small…they have no significance.

      • LenRunciter

        They have great significance, considering the fact that we are experiencing very observable consequences from ocean acidification. Just as we are experiencing very observable consequences from rising global temperatures.

        Hey, this is from satellites, your preferred method of choice!

        But I know that is all beyond you.

      • 3GSimpleton

        Stop making chicken little noises and deal with my comment.

        How can you take a value which is one order of magnitude smaller than the best case uncertainties and then proceed to extrapolate anything from that?

        Listen carefully:

        The value is not statistically significant, which means, it cannot be sufficiently distinguished from zero, which means it may well be zero, or may well have the opposite sign.

      • LenRunciter

        “I reject in its entirety the notion that CO2 causes climate change.”

        Down below reader 3GSimpleton refers to the CO2 sensitivity issue, by citing skeptic Judith Curry, carefully noting how CO2 does in fact cause an increase in temperature (it is indeed a greenhouse gas), thus changing “climate.” You might refer to him.
        Oh that’s right, that’s you.

      • 3GSimpleton

        Well…if you define “climate change” as a 1 K rise over 130+ years, then fine…have it your way. CO2 causes “climate change”.

        On the other hand, we all know that “climate change” is the replacement code phrase for “global warming”, as that choice was wording was starting to become problematic, on account of the lack of observed warming. So the wordsmiths went to work, and crafted a new message…a sufficiently ambiguous label which can be used a philosophical touchstone and subsequently linked to any number of events in the public consciousness. Thus, “climate change” was born. Until then, it seems, we were supposed to be worried about the warming. From then, it seems, we are to be worried about any form of “change”. That is, all “climate change” is bad.

        And since then, “climate change” has been repeatedly redefined to include floods, droughts, lack of snow, too much snow, rising sea levels, falling lake levels, more hurricanes, stronger hurricanes, more tornados, stronger tornados, extinctions of species, invasions of species…i could go on, the the point is sufficiently made. “Climate change” now means whatever anyone wants it to mean, at the time they want it to convey that meaning, as might be convenient for the circumstances.

        So…to your point. Do I agree that “CO2 causes a small degree of atmospheric warming”? Yes, I do. Do I agree that it causes “climate change” as that phrase is crafted and intended, and as it is commonly used (abused?) today? No, I do not.

        And by the way, it is most disingenuous how you conflate the issue. If you mean “global warming”, why won’t you just say so?

      • LenRunciter

        Good to see you coming along. Alas, it doesn’t cause a small degree of warming, it causes continual warming if left unabated. It won’t stop on its own.
        Consider this…you have millions of cells in your body. One of them might be cancerous. Small amount? Surely. Your doctor might tell you its time to be concerned. Your use of the term “small” is absolutely meaningless, and most of the experts (substitute “doctor” with “climate scientists” disagree with you.
        Nothing disingenuous on my part…it has always been global warming leading to climate change. But again, I’ll always play in your ballpark, you wouldn’t have it any other way. Global warming then.
        By the way, stop with the conspiracy theory nonsense…there isn’t some worldwide conspiracy underfoot to manipulate data, change the English language, etc…some conspiracy that has fooled every single major science organization and the clear majority of climate scientists, and every National Academy of the world over. Its silly.

      • 3GSimpleton

        “Alas, it doesn’t cause a small degree of warming, it causes continual warming if left unabated. It won’t stop on its own.”

        What an entirely unscientific thing to say.

        In light of your comment, can you explain what Transient Climate Response and Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity refer to, in the context of changes in CO2 concentration?

        Besides, have you ever heard of “residence time in the atmosphere” as it pertains to CO2 released, both natural and man-made?


        Your handlers are going to be very disappointed in you. You should delete your comment forthwith before anyone clues in.

      • LenRunciter

        No, its a great comment, just like the others I made that only upset you. Since you failed to even making a cursory attempt at refuting it, I’ll let it stand, thank you very much.

      • 3GSimpleton

        Speaking of feedback loops…

        How’s that tropospheric hot spot coming along? You know, the one that is the signature of the CO2 induced warming?

        How is the additional water vapor coming along? You know, the additional water vapor arising from the additional evaporation arising from the additional heat caused by the additional CO2?

        And always with the weasel words:

        “…because even a small increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases can have a large impact on things like…”

        How about a prediction that can be tested and refuted if incorrect?

        “can have” is a pretty sissy way of putting it, isn’t it?

      • LenRunciter

        Ah, a tough guy behind a keyboard, eh?
        You know, I’ll wait for you to be able to refute one scientific finding that I have cited- continuously- and you just move on from. Its all getting rather tedious with you.

      • 3GSimpleton

        You do realize that the outlandish claims of the IPCC are in large part based not on the warming directly attributable to CO2, but in large part on the warming which would arise as the amount of water vapor increased? You see…water vapor actually IS a significant GHG…the most important one in fact.

        This is one of the cornerstones of the IPCC projections, and a significant reason why they are way high on their estimates of ECS.

        And with a lower ECS, the whole man-made CO2 warming edifice collapses in on itself.

        Wake me up when you find the missing water vapor…look near where the missing heat in the ocean is. Maybe they ran off together…

      • LenRunciter

        Enjoy your day, 3GS…this was indeed amusing.

  • Hudson Valley

    He should look up “mitigate”!

  • You want to understand Republican politics regarding climate change, watch this clip from Years of Living Dangerously …
    … you might not agree with their viewpoint, but at least you’ll understand their reasoning, and can then attempt to shift their position …

  • mememine

    It’s been 34 YEARS of debate and still not enough climate action achieved to SAVE THE PLANET from Human CO2?!

    Not one CO2 scientist is willing to say they are not ‘ALLOWED” to agree beyond their laughable 99% certainty; that the end is near.

    34 MORE years without climate action is 100% certain and exaggerating vague science for decades to billions of innocent children is a war crime in the coming history books.

  • LenRunciter

    Yes, it is all similar to the fact that China has a movement underway to limit CO2 emissions. It is more specifically directed at the scandalous amount of smog and air pollution they have caused by fossil fuels, rather than climate change itself, but who cares. If we both want to limit CO2 emissions, no need to argue about the reasons.

    However…this is all just an indication of how far the GOP has to travel in order to accept what science is telling us. And science is increasingly telling us that time is growing very short. PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is warning us that every year we are busting the carbon budget. According to them, science tells us we need to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees C, we currently have worldwide commitments that would get us to 3 degrees C, and our actions say that we will hit 4 degrees C at minimum. And every year it gets worse.

    If Rubio and Bush are the best they have to offer, its just tepid commitment…all at a time when we need earnest commitment.

    • Good point. One of our colleagues live and works in China and the public reaction to the “Under the Dome” documentary has been interesting to read about. Also worth pointing to the “Risky Business Projects” reports about the economics costs of climate change in the United States:

    • 3GSimpleton

      And yet…every empirical study suggests that ECS is likely to be well below the IPCC estimate/wildguess of 1.5 to 4.5 DEC C, and much more likely to be below 1 DEG C. Even the IPCC is backtracking on their position on ECS, by saying flat out that they do not know what the “central estimate” is on account of uncertainty. 30 years of research…nothing learned…same claim today as then…same uncertainty, maybe more…but now we are 95% confident.

      I don’t know what you mean by: “…science tells us we need to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees
      C, we currently have worldwide commitments that would get us to 3
      degrees C, and our actions say that we will hit 4 degrees C at minimum.”

      Because, that is not at all what science tells us.

      • LenRunciter

        There is only less uncertainty today. 25 years ago there wasn’t near unanimous agreement that the earth is warming and that we may indeed be heading for a problem Today, every single major science organization that has issues a statement on the climate says AGW is real, getting worse, is caused primarily by man, and is a problem we need to do something about. National Academy of Sciences, American Geophysical Union, American Meteorological Society, American Physical Society, American Association for the Advancement of Sciences…all of them. You cannot find one that disagrees.

        Keeping temperature rise to 2 degrees C has been the goal from most climate scientists for years. It is the limit that the earth could absorb, according to them, without serious consequences. You can do you your own search to see how often that goal has been cited, but here is one for you:

        Business is now understanding that sad fact. Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) is one of the world’s largest tax, audit and consulting firms. They have for years been warning their Fortune 500 clients that there exists a carbon budget if we expect to limit warming to 2 degrees. Here is the link where they say that science says we need to keep warming to 2 degrees, we only have commitments to hit 3 degrees, and our current actions indicate that we are headed to 4 degrees.

        Science does in fact tell us this. Here is what American Association for the Advancement of Science says:

        “Earth’s climate is on a path to warm beyond the range of what has been experienced over the past millions of years.[ii] The range of uncertainty for the warming along the current emissions path is wide enough to encompass massively disruptive consequences to societies and ecosystems: as global temperatures rise, there is a real risk, however small, that one or more critical parts of the Earth’s climate system will experience abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes. Disturbingly, scientists do not know how much warming is required to trigger such changes to the climate system.”

        Now you know.

      • 3GSimpleton

        In 1989, the IPCC said they were “confident” that man-made CO2 was causing warming.
        In 1994, the IPCC said they had “increased confidence” that man-made CO2 was causing warming.
        In 2001, the IPCC said it was “likely” that man-made CO2 was causing warming.
        In 2006, the IPCC said it was “very likely” that man-made CO2 was causing warming.
        In 2013, the IPCC said it was “extremely likely” that man-made CO2 was causing warming.

        Through the first three assessment reports, the IPCC stated that ECS was estimated at between 1.5 – 4.5 DEG C, with a likely value of 2.5 DEG C. In the fourth assessment report, the IPCC stated that the estimate range for ECS was 2.0 – 4.5 DEC C, and the likely value as 3 DEC C. In the fifth assessment report, we are back to a range of 1.5 – 4.5 DEG C, and the IPCC won’t even guess at what the likely value might be. So after all the research, we know as much as we did before.

        However…time has passed. We have more observations. In particular, we have many more measurements of temperature, and using those, it is possible to constrain ECS much better than before. Especially, as during the last 30 years or so, CO2 has risen by a significant amount. We now know that satellite measurements do not show the degree of warming that justifies an ECS much greater than 1 DEG C.

        I note that this falls outside of the IPCC stated range, and is only a third of the last stated estimate of 3 DEG C. I note that >95% of CMIP5 projections are way too high when compared to the empirical record. I note that actual temperatures are running well below the lower bound of the ranges projected by said models.

        At some point, the common folk are going to wake up to the fact that the IPCC has never relied on anything but models for their claims of “increased confidence” and “extremely likely” prognostications.

        Nothing but UNVALIDATED, INCOMPLETE models.

        And relying on unvalidated and incomplete models which are shown to be demonstrably wrong by empirical observations is not science. Neither are the predictions and extrapolations that ensue from there. Neither is a single document you cite above.

      • LenRunciter

        No citations? Didn’t think so.

        The models have been largely correct.

        But that’s OK, I’ll stay with AAAS, largest general science organization in the world, with over 100,000 members…rather than someone who describes himself as a simpleton. At least that was correct on your part.

      • 3GSimpleton

        Do you even know what a citation looks like?

        Here is a clue: “latimes” is probably not it.

        Try this one:

        Nicholas Lewis and Judith Curry: The implications for climate sensitivity of AR5 forcing and heat uptake estimates. Climate Dynamics, September 2014


      • LenRunciter

        Yeah I do and you didn’t provide one.

        By the way, the LA Times is indeed a citation, and if you had bothered to look at the article it cites a study in Nature:

        Do you even understand what Curry says? She says that CO2 forces temperature up, something you had a problem understanding initially…glad to see you have arrived.

        She says that the forcing is not as large as that used by IPCC models. Doesn’t mean she is right, and in fact other scientists have taken her to task (by the way, she notes at the end of blogpost that her study is certainly not the end answer).

        Regardless, she is telling you that CO2 is a problem…she thinks it might be 10 or 20 years behind what the IPCC says.

        “The median estimate of the TCR from Lewis and Curry (1.3K) is towards the lower end of the IPCC likely range and lower than the CMIP5 median value of around 1.8K.”

        So thanks for citing a skeptic who admits that CO2 forcing a temperature increase, and one that agrees with one of the scenarios posted by the IPCC.
        Time to get concerned.

  • David Howell

    We should fact the facts,, There to much money against Climate Change..