Political Animal


May 17, 2011 12:35 PM Why Huntsman’s climate struggles matter

By Steve Benen

In the surest sign yet that Jon Huntsman, President Obama’s former ambassador to China, is running for president, the Republican has given up his support for cap-and-trade. He joins Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, who did the same thing before launching their own national bids.

But Taegan Goddard flags an interesting quote from Huntsman on the issue, which speaks to a larger concern. When Time magazine asked, “You also believe in climate change, right?” Huntsman replied:

“I’m not a meteorologist. All I know is 90 percent of the scientists say climate change is occurring. If 90 percent of the oncological community said something was causing cancer we’d listen to them.”

In the same interview, Huntsman defended his flip-flop on cap-and-trade, saying the economy is “in a different place than five years ago.” Reminded how easy it is to always put environmental crises on the back burner behind other priorities, Huntsman added that addressing climate change would put “additional burdens on the pillars of growth,” which is “counter-productive.”

This is, in general, the worst of all possible positions. Much of the right believes climate change is a “hoax” and an elaborate conspiracy cooked up by communists to destroy America’s way of life. These deniers have a simple solution to the problem: ignore it and pretend there is no problem. Much of the left takes the evidence seriously, is eager to address the crisis, and has a variety of possible solutions to the problem, including but not limited to cap-and-trade plans.

Huntsman apparently wants to split the difference — he accepts the evidence and believes the problem is real; Huntsman just doesn’t want to do anything about it.

To borrow his analogy, Huntsman has heard the collective judgment of 90% of the world’s oncologists, but believes it’d be inconvenient to deal with the cancer or what’s causing the cancer anytime soon.

I should also note that the premise here is equally dubious — Huntsman is convinced that dealing with the climate crisis would necessarily do meaningful damage to the economy, and there’s ample evidence to believe otherwise.

But even putting that aside, Huntsman isn’t doing himself any favors by trying to thread this needle. The right will be unimpressed that he believes the science, and the left will be unimpressed that he prefers to ignore the problem for the indefinite future.

In the meantime, the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, is continuing to remind the nation that the climate crisis is real, the effects are already becoming serious, and there is a “pressing” need for policymakers to do something about it.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Mike Moscoe on May 17, 2011 12:49 PM:

    Can't you just hear echos of FDR's speech on 12/8/41. "What happened at Pearl Harbor yesterday was pretty bad. But the country's broke. We'd have to borrow money, or worse, raise taxes on the rich, if we tried to do anything about it. So, I guess we'll just keep on doing things the way we have been, and hope it turns out better next year."

    Yeah, right.

  • danimal on May 17, 2011 1:03 PM:

    While Huntsman's turnaround is disappointing, I'm not terribly upset. Unfortunately, he has to run in the GOP primary, so he can not be proactive on climate issues and hope to win. His rhetoric at least gives him the opportunity to pivot back and take action on climate change in the future.

    President Huntsman (yeah, right) can state that the economic turnaround in 2013 allows us to address the issue now that conditions have improved. This is a much more encouraging position than the climate change deniers.

    The deniers will have a much harder time doing anything but oppose climate change efforts for their entire presidency. By rejecting the science, they have no way to make a pivot and actually do something about climate change.

  • Anonymous on May 17, 2011 1:04 PM:

    Another weasel candidate for Republicans.

    Who needs 'em?

  • c u n d gulag on May 17, 2011 1:14 PM:

    This is all fine with Republicans.

    There are two insurmountable obstacles to a Huntsman candidacy:
    -He's a Mormon. Which, to me, is just another absurd religion. But, for the Fundy's, this is like being a Jew - but you don't serve any useful purpose like they do in the apocalypse.
    -He not only worked for Obama, and that's bad enough, But he complimented Obama!

    This guy has no chance. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nodda.

  • c u n d gulag on May 17, 2011 1:17 PM:

    F*CKING CAPTCHA just f*cking ate my f*cking comment!!!

    Huntsman has as much chance of being the Republican candidate as the commenters here of loving CAPTCHA!

    He's a Mormon. Which is just another absurd religion to me.
    And he compliment Obama after WORKING for him.

  • doubtful on May 17, 2011 1:18 PM:

    I'm sure the burgeoning renewable energy industries around the world loves to hear our leaders and potential leaders claim addressing climate change would stifle growth.

    It guarantees they'll have a head start.

  • Chris on May 17, 2011 1:24 PM:

    "Huntsman is convinced that dealing with the climate crisis would necessarily do meaningful damage to the economy,..."

    In fact, not dealing with the climate crisis would necessarily do meaningful damage to the economy. 90 percent of the climatology community argue that global warming is already damaging our economy by causing or magnifying catastrophic weather conditions.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on May 17, 2011 1:26 PM:

    Our religious fundamentalist base will never allow a non-Christian to receive the nomination of the party. If ever Romney or Huntsman become the most likely nominees, our base will go apeshit over allowing either of these sect members to lead our party.

    Rest assured, we of the wealthy funding wing of the party understand where we are at for the 2012 election cycle. We know that the fundamentalist and teatard wings of our party will insist upon nominating one of our crazies. We will focus our dollars on regaining control of the senate so that with our house, we can assure that nothing becomes law that will disadvantage us.

    Indeed, it is overall a blessing in disguise. Getting obliterated by Obama in 2012 will provide the justication for our reasserting control over the crazies. After 4 more years of destroying Obama and the economy, we will be poised to have our chosen person as the next president. Jeb is one of us and understands that the use of power in pursuit of more power and more money is the real American way!

  • DRF on May 17, 2011 1:42 PM:

    I think danimal has it right--this is about as reasonable a position as one could expect a Republican to take, and it allows Huntsman to turn around a couple of years from now and push for climate change action.

    I doubt that his acknowledgement of the fact of climate change will significantly hurt him among Republican voters. Sure, there are some deniers (but whether this is a genuinely held belief by all of them or not is questionable). But I suspect that most Republicans will be sympathetic to this position.

    I think Huntsman doesn't really expect to win the nomination. He's either positioning himself for a VP nomination or he's just trying to create some visibility for himself so that he is positioned to run in 2016.

  • Danp on May 17, 2011 1:51 PM:

    The funny thing is that when Republicans look for someone to argue against climate change, they usually use economists like Bjorn Lomborg. Before that is was just a science fiction writer (Chrichton). It's not surprising that Huntsman would think the real experts are people like Al Roker.

  • Mark on May 17, 2011 1:54 PM:

    Not sure that Huntsman said he'd do nothing about climate change -- just dissed cap and trade. I'm not sure I care if cap and trade is ever implemented -- there are other ways of combating climate change, other than setting up a market-based scheme for smart guys to game.

  • Danp on May 17, 2011 1:54 PM:

    I agree with cund gulag. Spam wasn't really so bad when you think about it.

  • tsts on May 17, 2011 1:54 PM:

    "To borrow his analogy, Huntsman has heard the collective judgment of 90% of the world's oncologists, but believes it'd be inconvenient to deal with the cancer or what's causing the cancer anytime soon."

    Which might make sense for a patient who just had a heart attack and needs to recover from that first, before going under the knife.

    Don't get me wrong, I do disagree with Huntsman here, but your analogy borrowing seems to backfire.

    Also, concerning whether Huntsman's position makes sense politically, that depends on what he is trying to achieve: appeal to the anti-science tea party base, or appeal to the moneymen behind them who want to make sure nothing gets done on this issue but who don't care what arguments you are using to achieve that.

  • square1 on May 17, 2011 2:07 PM:

    Time and again we see the "only Nixon could go to China" political phenomenon.

    I consider climate change to be among the top 2 or 3 political issues (I suppose not getting into a full-blown nuclear war would top climate change by itself). I am convinced that Obama will do fuck-all to address the issue if re-elected. He hasn't done squat so far and I see no urgency on his part.

    Frankly, at this point, I'm willing to roll the dice and hope that a GOP President might address the problem. At the very least, a Huntsman presidency would free environmental activists and liberals in Congress to get much more aggressive. Perhaps a GOP president concerned about looking sane would be more proactive than a Democratic president trying to look "pro-business".

    If neither Obama nor Huntsman are willing to act then it would be more likely that the 2016 Democratic nominee would run on a climate change platform if Huntsman was in office than Obama.

  • bobbo on May 17, 2011 2:43 PM:

    Is it interesting that he said "I'm not a meteorologist" or just evidence of his ignorance? A meteorologist is a weatherman. They don't necessarily know anything about climate change. In fact, it's the meteorologists who pop up in the ranks of organized climate-denialism.

  • max on May 17, 2011 3:36 PM:

    "Huntsman apparently wants to split the difference — he accepts the evidence and believes the [climate change] problem is real; Huntsman just doesn’t want to do anything about it."

    If you need a primer on how this fool would govern, you just got one.

  • chi res on May 17, 2011 3:39 PM:

    Here you go, square1. Found some allies for you. Why don't you knock yourself out over there with your buddy, Matt Lewis?


  • Michael Heath on May 17, 2011 6:05 PM:

    Meteorologists are generally not even educated on the climate, let alone climate experts. Usually they take only a class on it in college. Climatologists and other physicists are the primary scientists studying the climate with other disciplines chipping in as well.

    In addition the consensus among actively publishing climate scientists is greater than 97%, not 90%. These climate scientists don't also don't merely report the climate is warming, but that this is caused by human activities.

  • Poop Shoe on May 17, 2011 10:10 PM:

    I like Jon Huntsman, but he doesn't have a chance.