After nearly three hours of glistening brows – and just miles from raging climate-driven wildfires — the Republican presidential field finally took up the issue of dangerous, man-made global warming. But they didn’t do it willingly, they didn’t break any new ground, and – if the nation’s leading scientists and economists are right – they didn’t get it right.
All the leading GOP candidates came into the debate skeptical of anthropogenic climate change, or at least skeptical of the claim that it is a serious, multi-level threat to the planet. And that skepticism only flowered in the answers of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the only three to actually take up the issue.
Moderator Jake Tapper pressed them on the issue, surfacing a social media question from none other than George Schultz, Ronald Reagan’s well-respected Secretary of State.
“Secretary Shultz asks, why not take out an insurance policy and approach climate change the Reagan way?” said Tapper.
He tossed the question to Rubio, who has denied the existence of man-made climate change despite living in a state that scientists say could disappear entirely if the world burns fossil fuel without end. And Rubio stuck to his lines.
“We're not going to destroy our economy the way the left-wing government that we are under now wants to do,” Rubio said. “I am not in favor of any policies that make America a harder place for people to live, or to work, or to raise their families.”
That set him up for a familiar, fact-challenged riff about rising electricity bills, evaporating job growth, and the futility of America trying to single-handedly address a global problem like climate change – that is, if it’s a problem at all.
“Maybe a billionaire here in California can afford an increase in their utility rates, but a working family in Tampa, Florida, or anywhere across this country cannot afford it,” he said.
“So we are not going to destroy our economy. We are not going to make America a harder place to create jobs in order to pursue policies that will do absolutely nothing, nothing to change our climate, to change our weather, because America is a lot of things — the greatest country in the world, absolutely — but America is not a planet.”
Christie jumped in next. In the past, he has said that climate change is real and that humans are most likely contributing to it. But he skipped that moderate position on Wednesday, preferring instead to join Rubio in the skeptics camp.
“I agree with Marco,” said Christie. “We shouldn't be destroying our economy in order to chase some wild left-wing idea that somehow us by ourselves is going to fix the climate. We can contribute to that and be economically sound.”
Rubio jumped back in.
“Here is what I'm skeptical of. I'm skeptical of the decisions that the left wants us to make, because I know the impact those are going to have and they're all going to be on our economy," he said. "They will not do a thing to lower the rise of the sea. They will not do a thing to cure the drought here in California. But what they will do is they will make America a more expensive place to create jobs.”
That gave Walker a chance throw his weight behind the same idea, the notion that policies that address climate change will invariably sink the job market and ruin the manufacturing base that supports his state.
“We shouldn’t be destroying our economy in order to chase some wild left-wing idea that somehow us by ourselves is going to fix the climate."'
Although he didn’t mention it by name, his target was the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which limits -- for the first time ever -- the amount of carbon power plants can pump into the atmosphere.
“I'm going to echo what Senator Rubio just said,” the governor said. “This is an issue where, we're talking about my state, it's thousands of manufacturing jobs. Thousands of manufacturing jobs for a rule the Obama administration, own EPA has said will have a marginal impact on climate change.”
The rest of the candidates kept quiet, perhaps because their anti-science positions have become a liability among young voters, Hispanics, and most of the rest of the electorate outside of conservative white men. Or perhaps they kept quiet because the debate itself is taking place in California, a state that serves as a counter example to most of the GOP talking points.
California has done a lot to address climate change – so much, in fact, that if California were a country it would be one of the top 10 in total renewable energy production, and almost dead last in terms of carbon emissions per person. And guess what? Jobs are up, electricity bills are down, and the state economy is booming.
If that's what destruction looks like, more states might want to try it.