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A rare sight: GOP senator walks back belief in climate change

A Republican senator has made a bizarre transition: he voted for a cap-and-trade bill in 2009, but is now climate-science skeptic.
Republican Sen. Mark Kirk became the second Republican to join dozens of Democratic senators who back homosexuals' right to wed. (REUTERS/Jeff Haynes/Files)
Republican Sen. Mark Kirk became the second Republican to join dozens of Democratic senators who back homosexuals' right to wed.
In June 2009, the Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) House was eager to address the climate crisis. At the White House's behest, the chamber crafted and approved a moderate cap-and-trade plan, roughly in line with the proposal endorsed by the McCain/Palin campaign a year prior.
But as Republican radicalization intensified, belief in climate science became increasingly ideological, and by the time the cap-and-trade bill reached the floor, only eight House Republicans voted for it. (As it turns out, those eight votes mattered -- the bill would have died without their support.)
In a bizarre twist, one of the eight has apparently changed his mind.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has reversed his opinion on climate change and now says that greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are not warming the Earth.... Kirk said that the naming of Greenland, and the fact that it was once green, shows that the Earth's climate changes regularly and naturally. "We had the previous warming period, which was called the global optimum, and the best way to talk about that is when Leif Erickson went west from his home, he discovered a landmass that he called Greenland, because it was," Kirk told Greenwire. "And that was called the global optimum, because the planet was much warmer. By calling Greenland 'green land,' we know that the climate has been changing pretty regularly within recorded memory."

The full report published by E&E is not available to the public, but in the same piece, Kirk complained, "Political correctness took over climate science."
Oh my.
It's worth appreciating how unusual this is. The Illinois Republican is the only politician I can think of who's actually made the transition in the wrong direction -- confronted with more evidence, Mark Kirk somehow became more ignorant, abandoning sensible positions he held just five years ago.
What's more, as a matter of politics, this is inexplicable -- Kirk is running for re-election in a blue state in 2016. He may be worried about a primary in the interim, but becoming a climate denier will not help his general-election prospects.
According to the report in The Hill, the Illinois Republican "later sought to clarify his comments," conceding that climate change is "real" and that "human beings definitely play a role."
That's nice, though it doesn't explain the oddity of his Greenland argument, the whole "political correctness" line, or his willingness to abandon his cap-and-trade vote (which, ironically, he's blamed on "ignorance"). For that matter, the notion that human activity plays "a role" in the climate crisis is a common refrain among those who don't want to do anything about the problem -- it's a shorthand for a broader argument that says rising temperatures may be a natural phenomenon.
Of course, as Tiffany Germain and Kristen Ellingboe noted this week, Kirk's comments come against an even more discouraging backdrop.

Over 56 percent of Republicans in the 114th Congress deny or question the science behind human-caused climate change, according to an analysis by CAP Action. On the heels of what looks to be the warmest year in recorded history, with the global carbon dioxide levels that drive climate change reaching unprecedented levels, 53 percent — 131 members — of the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives deny the occurrence of human-caused global warming and 72 percent — 39 members — on the Senate side sing the same tune.

In the wake of the 2014 midterm elections, the Senate Energy Committee will now be led by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), one of the nation's fiercest opponents of climate science.