Photo: Iowapolitics.com via Flickr/CC BY
Rick Perry has kept himself busy since announcing his intention to run for president -- after calling for a moratorium on all new regulations and referring to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke as "treasonous", he publicly derided climate change as a hoax perpetrated by scheming, data-manipulating scientists. That's not your standard-issue climate change skepticism. That's extremist conspiracy theorizing.
Perhaps sensing an opening to grab some headlines and appeal to more moderate voters, less-visible candidate John Huntsman fired back at Perry, telling the Washington Post that "We're not going to win a national election if we become the anti-science party." Could he be right? It's hard to say. Sometimes it's easy to get the impression that public opinion on climate change is split down the middle, with concerned advocates for climate action on one side and science-denying conspiracy theorists on the other. But that's not the case.
I'd point to the Yale Project on Climate Communication, a great annual survey that examines American belief in global warming. It consistently finds that the composition of the public's climate attitudes are a lot more complex than that perceived dichotomy: Over a third are very concerned, many are ambivalent or apathetic, and only a small sliver actually believe in the fringe-y conspiracy nonsense (i.e. Al Gore made it all up, it's a plot by scheming scientists, or an intergovernmental conspiracy to enact a new world order -- take your pick).
And that fringe-y nonsense is exactly what Perry is spouting. Same with Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, and Herman Cain. They have also each called for extreme rollbacks of environmental protection and sever de-funding of the EPA.
But it's important to note what's happening here -- these candidates' views are popular right now, amongst the far-right and the Tea Party elements that share them. But a solid majority of Americans think that climate change is a problem, and that the EPA is a necessary tool for keeping our air and water clean -- and they might squirm at the thought of electing a leader whose views on both are so extreme and dismissive.
It's one thing to waffle on climate change or to question the EPA's reach. But to lead full-bore assaults on both will make voters uncomfortable. Mitt Romney, Huntsman, and possible entrant New Jersey Governor Chris Christie know this, which is why they haven't doubled down on the anti-climate-kill-the-EPA crazy talk. They're hoping that more moderate voters -- and rich GOP donors -- will be hesitant to back a more extreme candidate that would face trouble over such views in the general election.
Of course, this gambit could fail to adequately energize the more passionate (and science-illiterate) part of the far-right base, and the more moderate folks could fall to the Tea Party champions. It will indeed be interesting to see how the GOP addresses these environmental issues -- its top leadership is undoubtedly a little worried about the brashness of the current crop of front-runners.
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More on the GOP and Climate
Rick Perry: Global Warming is a Hoax Concoted by Data-Manipulating Scientists
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