The coal-fired Plant Scherer is shown in operation early Sunday, June 1, 2014, in Juliette, Ga.
Photo by John Amis/AP

Will the climate debate be more than hot air in 2016?

In the last presidential election, the Republican nominee couldn’t seem to decide whether or not he cared, or even believed in, the climate crisis. Mitt Romney ended up changing his mind more than once, depending on his audience at the time. The GOP candidate always seemed torn between acknowledging reality and alienating his Republican brethren who see climate science as an elaborate international “hoax.”
 
We may be poised to a replay. Benjy Sarlin reported the other day on Jeb Bush’s latest comments about global warming at an appearance in New Hampshire.
The most surprising turn came earlier Friday at a breakfast event at St. Anselm College, where Bush said “we need to work with the rest of the world to negotiate a way to reduce carbon emissions.”
 
The comments marked a big shift from his previous criticism of climate science. While Bush criticized Obama’s environmental regulations as an economic drain, his comments put him to the left of the Republican field, which has tacked hard towards climate skepticism since 2008.
A massive field of Republican presidential candidates is taking shape, and it’s been hard not to wonder whether the field would be made up entirely of climate deniers. It’s admittedly setting the bar awfully low, but the Florida Republican’s willingness to express some concern about emissions is a positive sign.
 
At least it was, right up until Jeb Bush started adding caveats. Rebecca Leber added:
“The climate is changing, and I’m concerned about that,” Bush said. With those words, he may be distancing himself from his fellow GOP presidential hopefuls, who sound like loons on the problem. Bush offered a caveat, though, saying he is more worried “about the hollowing out of our country.”
According to the video, Bush’s exact words were as follows: “The climate is changing and I’m concerned about that, but to be honest with you, I’m more concerned about the hollowing out of our country, the hollowing out of our industrial core, the hollowing out of our ability to compete in an increasingly competitive world.”
 
The former governor added that Americans should be “cognizant of the fact that we have this climate change issue.”
 
In 2015, this is largely what passes for moderation: a Republican presidential candidate who sees the climate crisis as a legitimate issue, but who reassures his party’s base that it’s not his top priority and he intends to focus his energies elsewhere. Or put another way, Jeb Bush is the candidate for those who believe global warming is real, but who don’t really want to worry about it.
 
Bush wants people to be “cognizant” of global warming, which is certainly a step up from seeing climate science as a communist plot cooked up to destroy private enterprise. There is, however, a problem with any sentence that begins, “The climate is changing and I’m concerned about that, but…”
 

Climate Change, Global Warming and Jeb Bush

Will the climate debate be more than hot air in 2016?