Coal Tattoo

Is climate change just a joke to the GOP?

Folks are going to be talking a lot about last night’s appearance by Clint Eastwood at the closing of the Republican National Convention, but as I watched events unfold, the really remarkable moment was when GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney started off this sentence:

President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans …

Governor Romney paused, to allow laughter to spread through the convention hall. Then he finished his line:

… And to heal the planet. MY promise is to help you and your family.

Over at Climate Progress, Joe Romm cited this reader comment from TPM, which pretty much nailed it:

This is obviously meant to portray Obama as grandiose and foolish, making wild promises he can’t keep —- about things that don’t matter to people.

However, it creates an odd distinction, as if the health of the planet and help for one’s family are different altogether and one’s family will do well even if the planet is doing poorly. Meanwhile, this summer, families in Colorado have lost their homes to fire and families through the Midwest have suffered intense heat and farmers’ crops have failed. Belief that global warming is happening has increased.

If the Obama people were to take this comment seriously, not just ignore or dismiss it as a nasty crack, but take it seriously as a policy matter, they really could have a winning issue in some swing states.

In West Virginia? Well, we’re hardly a swing state anymore. Though it is interesting to look at the poll published today by the Daily Mail, and realize that Governor Romney’s margin over President Obama (14 percentage points) is not that much more than Sen. John McCain’s victory margin in 2008 (13 percentage points). The Daily Mail has 10 percent of those polled in West Virginia as undecided — and that’s after more than three years of the coal industry’s PR machine, with more than a little help from most of West Virginia’s media outlets.

But keep in mind that it’s partly the refusal of many in industry and politics to accept and act on the science of climate change that has efforts to perfect and deploy carbon capture and storage technology — the only real savior for the coal industry — so woefully behind the pace needed to both protect the planet and rescue coal jobs.

And not for nothing, but that four-letter word “coal” got only one very brief mention in Governor Romney’s speech, when he was running down a list of things he says President Obama is doing wrong:

His assault on coal and gas and oil will send energy and manufacturing jobs to China.

Of course, one of the more interesting things about what Governor Romney said last night is how starkly it contrasts with what he did when he was governor in Massachusetts. As the L.A. Times explained not long ago:

During his first 18 months as governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney spent considerable time hammering out a sweeping climate change plan to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

As staff briefed him on possible measures and environmentalists pressed him to act, Romney frequently repeated a central thought, people at those meetings said: That climate change is occurring, that the United States has the resources to handle its vast impact but that low-lying poor countries like Bangladesh would suffer greatly.

“It was like a mantra with him,” said a person who attended those meetings who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic. “His Cabinet members would look at him like, ‘What?’ He was the radical in the room.”

So has something legitimately convinced Governor Romney to change his mind? Or is he just pandering to the anti-science crowd who a laugh from even thinking about how human activity is changing the planet’s climate and that perhaps something should be done about that?

Well, Grist points out this interesting tidbit:

This was the speech immediately before the balloon drop, his primary sales pitch to undecided voters who hadn’t yet made up their minds. The quote was one of a few key passages Romney released to the press beforehand — one of the points the campaign thought were most important to get into newspaper articles before papers went to print.

And The Washington Post’s Wonkblog earlier had explained what this year’s GOP convention did to the party’s platform regarding climate change:

Over the past four years, the Republican Party has undergone a fairly dramatic shift in its approach to energy and environmental issues. Global warming has disappeared entirely from the party’s list of concerns. Clean energy has become an afterthought. Fossil fuels loom larger than ever.

Four years ago, this is what the GOP platform said about climate change:

The same human economic activity that has brought freedom and opportunity to billions has also increased the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. While the scope and longterm consequences of this are the subject of ongoing scientific research, common sense dictates that the United States should take measured and reasonable steps today to reduce any impact on the environment. Those steps, if consistent with our global competitiveness will also be good for our national security, our energy independence, and our economy.

Now? Wonkblog explains:

Skip ahead to 2012, and the GOP platform takes a markedly different tone. That section devoted to climate change? Gone. Instead, the platform flatly opposes ”any and all cap and trade legislation” to curtail greenhouse gases. It demands that Congress “take quick action to prohibit the EPA from moving forward with new greenhouse gas regulations.” It criticizes the Obama administration’s National Security Strategy for ”elevat[ing] ‘climate change’ to the level of a ‘severe threat’ equivalent to foreign aggression.” The platform even tosses in what appears to be a subtle swipe at climate scientists:

Moreover, the advance of science and technology advances environmentalism as well. Science allows us to weigh the costs and benefits of a policy so that we can prudently deal with our resources. This is especially important when the causes and long-range effects of a phenomenon are uncertain. We must restore scientific integrity to our public research institutions and remove political incentives from publicly funded research. [Emphasis added]

Governor Romney’s speech was referring back to remarks now-President Obama made in 2008, the night he wrapped up the Democratic nomination:

… If we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal …

Speaking of four years ago, Grist noted:

That year, Mitt Romney was also running for president, though his campaign had ended by the time Obama gave that speech. During that campaign in 2008, Romney admitted that climate change was occurring, and that humans were contributing to it. But Romney lost.

So now, Mitt Romney derides the scientific fact of climate change as he finds better political success in the Republican primary.

And just to be clear on one thing, here’s the latest science, via Climate Central, about rising sea levels:

A new analysis released Thursday in the journal Science implies that the seas could rise dramatically higher over the next few centuries than scientists previously thought — somewhere between 18-to-29 feet above current levels, rather than the 13-to-20 feet they were talking about just a few years ago.

The increase in sea level would largely come from the partial melting of giant ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica, which have remained largely intact since the end of the last ice age, nearly 20,000 years ago. But rising global temperatures, thanks to human greenhouse-gas emissions, have already begun to melt that ancient ice, sending sea level up 8 inches since 1880 alone, with as much as 6 feet or so of additional increase projected by 2100.

That’s not enough to inundate major population centers by itself, but coupled with storm surges, it could threaten millions of Americans long before the century ends. Around the world, sea level rise will put trillions in property at risk within the next few decades.

Twenty-nine feet of sea-level rise, by contrast, or even 18, would put hundreds coastal cities around the globe entirely under water, displacing many hundreds of millions of people and destroying untold trillions in property. It would, in short, be a disaster of unimaginable proportions.

Joe Romm concluded his commentary on Governor Romney’s statements on President Obama and climate change this way:

One can mock Obama for not doing enough to keep this important promise, but not for making it in the first place.

Chris Hayes on MSNBC rightly says the audience laughter at the whole notion of fighting sea level rise will some day “be in documentaries as a moment of just ‘what-were-they-thinking’ madness.” Hear! Hear!