It will be interesting to see how Republican presidential contenders respond to an exhaustive study by a prominent skeptic of global warming that found the planet is indeed rapidly getting hotter.
The study’s conclusion does not mean GOP candidates should suddenly embrace more regulations, new fees or unbridled spending on green technologies. It does mean they should treat the issue seriously, and not simply dismiss it as a kooky fabrication by back-to-nature fanatics.
While there remains a great deal of debate about the extent of the threat, the scientific evidence is compelling that climate change is occurring, and the burning of fossil fuels is likely a factor.
The GOP candidates should be offering conservative, market-based responses, not blanket denials. Yet so far only Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman have acknowledged they believe climate change is real, and lately Romney has sounded as if he were backtracking.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry says he thinks climate change is an unproven theory advanced by scientists who have “manipulated data.” Herman Cain calls man-made global warming “poppycock. I don’t believe in it.”
They should consider the findings of physicist Richard Muller, a long-time climate change skeptic, who conducted a two-year study that was partially funded by the Charles Koch Foundation, a conservative group that has funded the tea party and campaigns against environmental regulations. Brothers Charles and David Koch are involved in oil and other industries that produce greenhouse gas emissions.
Yet Muller found the land is 1.6 degrees warmer than in the 1950s, numbers that affirmed the findings of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA. Muller did not research the exact cause, but the majority of climate scientists say the burning of coal, oil and other fossil fuels is a factor. Muller seemed inclined to accept those findings.
He says it was prudent to reduce the carbon dioxide created by fossil fuels because “greenhouse gases could have a disastrous impact on the world.” This from a University of California, Berkeley, scientist who once mocked Al Gore.
Muller still has doubts that the climate change threat is as grave as some claim. Research should continue on climate change causes, likely impacts and the most effective responses. But it is irresponsible to treat the matter as political make-believe.
The effects of climate change could have devastating effects on the economy, public health and the environment. Consider Florida, where even a minor increase in ocean levels could ruin the tourism industry and the value of coastal real estate. Rising temperatures can increase the spread of pests and disease and can cause more severe weather patterns. Not all the impacts are negative. Warmer weather, for instance, can help growers in certain areas. But it may also result in damaging droughts and floods.
The U.S. military takes climate change seriously, recognizing how changes in weather and the availability of resources can affect the stability of other nations and create threats to our national security.
There is no doubt some left-wing activists are using climate change to advance government command-and-control schemes. The level of threat is still unknown, and certain natural events are simply beyond our control. Doom-and-gloom scenarios always merit a degree of healthy skepticism.
But simply ignoring the issue — and leaving our nation unprepared for the possibilities — is hardly conservative leadership.
The prudent reaction is to confront the facts, develop a long-term course of action and find ways to encourage private markets — not with Solyndra-like giveaways — to develop clean-energy and other technologies that will enable the nation to cope with whatever climate change comes our way.