There was a small and short-lived flurry of optimism a few months ago that perhaps Jeb Bush’s 2016 candidacy would represent a major shift in the Republican posture towards climate change. With the help of deep-pocketed fossil fuel interests, the GOP and the conservative movement have spent the past couple of decades dismissing and sneering at climate change science, casting it as a global left-wing conspiracy. But Jeb came out with some moderate-sounding rhetoric that a few eager and hopeful observers interpreted as a sign that he might actually be serious about climate change, or at least that he was less pig-headed about the science behind it than, say, Ted Cruz.
Well, Jeb went campaigning in New Hampshire yesterday and put all that hope for moderation to rest. Per the Washington Post, Jeb told voters that if you line up behind the scientific consensus that man-made carbon emissions are driving climate change, you’re guilty of arrogance:
“The climate is changing. I don't think the science is clear on what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural. It's convoluted," he told roughly 150 people at a house party here Wednesday night. "And for the people to say the science is decided on this is just really arrogant, to be honest with you. It's this intellectual arrogance that now you can't have a conversation about it even."
The science is decided. To say as much is not “arrogance” – it’s a statement of fact, one that shouldn’t be especially controversial. What Jeb is doing is what all self-described climate “skeptics” do: they demand equal consideration for their views, which are represented by a vanishingly small minority of scientists, and cry foul when they’re inevitably not given the respect they feel they deserve. It’s a commonly employed and useful trick for making the other side seem unreasonable while transforming yourself into a victim of intellectual persecution. Climate change deniers just want to have a “conversation,” much in the same way that tobacco company scientists just wanted to talk about the unsettled science linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer, or how lab-coat creationists want to simply “teach the controversy” about Darwinian evolution.
The goal “climate skeptics” are pursuing by demanding this “conversation” is inaction, which, at this point, would be a criminally unwise policy. The debate over climate change is not whether we can avoid the negative consequences of warming the earth, but rather how much pain we’ll choose to inflict on ourselves. As Vox’s David Roberts writes, mitigating as much of the damage as possible “would require an utterly unprecedented level of global mobilization and coordination, sustained over decades.” Any sort of effort to stave off complete catastrophe will require that the U.S. government take a leadership role and set an example for other heavy polluters.
But climate change is the one area in which conservatives and Republicans don’t want the U.S. to be a beacon of leadership for the world. Jeb’s plan for climate change, such as it is, is to demand that other countries reduce their carbon emissions while we put our faith in “innovation” and “technology” to “tear down barriers” and “find solutions.”
“I don't think we should ignore it, either. Generally, I think as conservatives we should embrace innovation, embrace technology, embrace science. It's the source of a lot more solutions than any government-imposed idea and sometimes I sense that we pull back from the embrace of these things. We shouldn't. We're the party that should be the party of discovery, the party of science, the party of innovation and tear down the barriers so that those things can accelerate in our lives to find solutions for all these things."
That’s an impossibly vague nothingburger of a position that gives the impression that Jeb cares about climate change as he advocates for the status quo. If he’s going to lob charges of “arrogance” at people who are unnerved by the scientific consensus pointing at a looming global disaster, you’d think he’d have something more serious as an alternative than “eh, the free market will take care of it.”