The vice-presidential candidates debate tonight should include questions that enable viewers to compare and contrast the candidates’ positions on the fundamental challenge of human-driven global climate disruption. While Obama and McCain differ less radically in their stated positions on climate change than on many other issues, McCain’s running mate has given interview responses ranging from denialist to incoherent on the subject.
What we would be likely to hear from Sen. Biden is suggested here and here. This is in the same direction as the response we might get from Sen. Obama, if the presidential debate interviewers ever deign to put the problem of global climatic disruption on the agenda.
But Gov. Palin has not, so far, reflected Sen. McCain’s views, which have been accepting of the climate science mainstream. In an earlier post (“Alaska Gov. Palin appears to deny global warming is due to human activity”) we noted: In response to an interview question about global warming, Sen. McCain’s running mate Gov. Sarah Palin replied: “A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I’m not one though who would attribute it to being man-made.”
This assertion contradicts the authoritative 2007 scientific assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which concluded that: “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.” In the IPCC lexicon, “very likely” refers to a greater than 90 percent likelihood of being true.
For a political leader at this stage of the game to refuse to acknowledge this fundamental conclusion by the world’s leading climate scientists – in a statement that also was adopted by all the governments including the United States – is essentially a denial or misrepresentation of the best available intelligence.
Palin’s interview with CBS’ Katie Couric included this exchange:
Couric: What’s your position on global warming? Do you believe it’s man-made or not?
Palin: Well, we’re the only Arctic state, of course, Alaska. So we feel the impacts more than any other state, up there with the changes in climates. And certainly, it is apparent. We have erosion issues. And we have melting sea ice, of course. So, what I’ve done up there is form a sub-cabinet to focus solely on climate change. Understanding that it is real. And …
Couric: Is it man-made, though, in your view?
Palin: You know there are—there are man’s activities that can be contributed to the issues that we’re dealing with now, with these impacts. I’m not going to solely blame all of man’s activities on changes in climate. Because the world’s weather patterns are cyclical. And over history we have seen change there. But kind of doesn’t matter at this point, as we debate what caused it. The point is: it’s real; we need to do something about it.
Once we work through Palin’s syntactically challenged, almost impenetrable response, we get to the bottom line that Joe Romm pointed out in an October 2 post on Salon:
Palin commented that it doesn’t matter whether climate change is cyclical or caused by humans. That betrays a stunning lack of understanding about climate change and even about what she has been told to say. If recent warming and climate change are merely part of naturally cyclical weather, then why do “we need to do something about it.” If it’s just part of a cycle, then the weather will sooner or later just go back to normal if we do nothing. For that matter, why has McCain devised an elaborate global warming bill to reduce human emissions?
It is because global warming is primarily due to sharply increasing human emissions of greenhouse gases that we know that continuing unconstrained emissions will make climate change worse. It is because humans are causing climate change that humans can prevent climate change.
Copyright ©2008 Salon Media Group, Inc.
So, let’s get this issue closer to the top of the hit parade of challenges to be addressed by the candidates during the remainder of the campaign. And let’s see if Palin is ready yet to conform her views to those of her running mate and to the scientific evidence.