What scientific consensus?: A complete guide to climate denial and the 2016 GOP candidates

Ranking the entire GOP presidential field, from the bad to the very bad to the you've-got-be-kidding-me

Published July 18, 2015 7:30PM (EDT)

  (AP/Reuters/LM Otero/David Becker/Jim Urquhart/Photo montage by Salon)
(AP/Reuters/LM Otero/David Becker/Jim Urquhart/Photo montage by Salon)

Ah, for it to be several weeks ago, when I was weighing the merits of the top Democratic candidates' climate platforms and wondering whether Hillary Clinton was green enough.

The GOP field, in comparison to that -- and in comparison to any rational world in which people refrain from quibbling with the scientific consensus on issues they don't understand -- is a hot pile of climate-denying garbage.

Their reluctance to take action on one of the most pressing issues of our time takes many forms, from shutting their ears and singing "lalalalalala" (metaphorically, of course) any time the topic comes up to tiptoeing up to the edge of admitting we might have a problem here ... and then praying the Koch brothers didn't overhear. The truth is, no one on the right is up to the challenge of averting the “severe, pervasive and irreversible” consequences of greenhouse gas emissions. But as the primaries heat up, here's our guide to where they stand.

Climate change is happening, and I will help drive the "substantial and sustained" emissions cuts scientists say are necessary to fight it

  • None of them.

Climate change is happening, and maybe we should think about doing something about it

  • Lindsey Graham: He's no tree-hugger, but the South Carolina senator climbed to the top of the disappointment heap, sticking his tongue out at the GOP climate deniers in the process. “Well, I’m not a scientist,” he told Late Night host Seth Meyers, “but here’s the problem I’ve got with some people in my party: When you ask the scientists what’s going on, why don’t you believe them? If I went to 10 doctors and nine said, ‘Hey, you’re gonna die,’ and one says ‘You’re fine,’ why would I believe the one guy?” As president, he's said, he'd at least get the conversation going within his party: “Can you say that climate change is a scientifically sound phenomenon? But can you reject the idea you have to destroy the economy to solve the problem, is sort of where I’ll be taking this debate," he explained.
  • George Pataki: Who? Ah, yes, the former New York governor, who -- to be clear -- hasn't said anything at all about climate change lately. But Mother Jones did unearth this 2007 report that Pataki helped author, which found that "unchecked climate change is poised to have wide-ranging and potentially disastrous effects over time on human welfare, sensitive ecosystems and international security" -- and which advocated for "comprehensive," bipartisan and international action to address it. It's anyone's guess why someone with such strong feelings is being silent on the issue now.

Climate change is happening, but I'd never risk pissing off the fossil fuel industry

  • Chris Christie: For some pathetic reason, it sounds downright progressive to hear a Republican candidate say out loud: "I think global warming is real. I don't think that's deniable. And I do think human activity contributes to it." Of course, the New Jersey governor has quibbles with just how much human activity is influencing climate change, and his record suggests he's not about to start cracking down: Last fall, he refused to rejoin a regional cap-and-trade program aimed at cutting his state's emissions. “It’s all because of a four letter word," speculated Democratic state Sen. Bob Smith: "K-O-C-H."
  • John Kasich: Way back in 2012, the Ohio governor went out on a limb and admitted he "happen[s] to believe there is a problem with climate change." But, he quickly followed up, no way no how was he going to "apologize" for the coal industry. "We are going to dig it, we are going to clean it, and we are going to burn it," he promised.
  • Carly Fiorina: There is a scientific consensus that climate change is real and caused by humans, and the sole female GOP contender isn't afraid to say it. But leave the industries responsible for causing climate change alone, OK? Climate activists just want to "have business bow to their ideological will and reshape companies in their desired image," and anyway, "what all the scientists also tell us is that a single state, or single nation acting alone can make no difference."

Climate change is happening, but really, anything can be causing it, so I don't need to have a plan

  • Jeb Bush: The latest Bush on the scene almost went there, making the downright moderate assertion that "the climate is changing and I’m concerned about that." But he was careful to point out that climate change definitely wasn't going to be a priority; later, he backtracked, saying, "I don’t think the science is clear on what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural." Oh, and he thinks it's "arrogant" to point out that the science, in fact, couldn't be clearer.
  • Marco Rubio: Less concerned than he should be that the southern part of his state is already beginning to drown, the Florida senator has laid out his position: "I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it. And I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy.”
  • Bobby Jindal: OK, so the Louisiana governor believes that climate change is happening and that we should think about doing something, even if he's not convinced that humans are all that responsible. But the plans we do have, like the Clean Power Plan and the upcoming U.N. negotiations, are no-gos for him. When it comes down to it, he thinks climate change is a "Trojan horse" the government will use to come in and suppress individual freedoms.
  • Rick Santorum: Is the climate changing? Sure. Is human activity causing it? That's anyone's guess. "Is there anything the U.S. can do about it? Clearly, no," the former U.S. senator told CNN.

Um excuse me, but ISIS?!?!

  • Rand Paul: Sure, sometimes the climate changes, but the Kentucky senator is "not sure anybody exactly knows why." He finds the idea that we should take climate change seriously as a major national security threat to be downright laughable.
  • Mike Huckabee: Long, long ago, the evangelical former governor of Arkansas acknowledged that climate change "is real; it's happening." He's since backtracked, and, on the natural security front, will have you know that "a beheading is much worse than a sunburn."

Hahahahaha climate change isn't happening

  • Ted Cruz: The Texas senator and Ivy Leaguer will take any of your reasonable and scientifically sound assertions about climate change and spit back a bunch of nonsense that proves only he, in the words of California Gov. Jerry Brown, "betokens such a level of ignorance and a direct falsification of scientific data" that it's "shocking."
  • Donald Trump: The celebrity candidate doesn't just believe that climate change isn't happening. He believes that “any and all weather events are used by the GLOBAL WARMING HOAXSTERS to justify higher taxes to save our planet!"
  • Ben Carson: The planet's always heating up, or cooling down, so this entire conversation is "irrelevant."
  • Rick Perry: It's not that the former Texas governor is a scientist (he's not, he tells us), but still, “calling CO2 a pollutant is doing a disservice [to] the country, and I believe a disservice to the world."

Whatever, I don't have to explain to anyone why I'm hell bent on destroying the environment

  • Scott Walker: The Koch brother kiss-ass and Wisconsin governor doesn't like to talk about the science, but his record tells us everything we need to know. "He really has gone after every single piece of environmental protection: Land, air, water -- he's left no stone unturned," Kerry Schumann, executive director of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, told Mother Jones. "It's hard to imagine anyone has done worse."

By Lindsay Abrams

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2016 Elections Climate Change Denialism Climate Deniers Republican Primaries