Political Animal


June 04, 2011 10:55 AM Acknowledging a problem vs. fixing a problem

By Steve Benen

A couple of weeks ago, Jon Huntsman raised a few eyebrows when he conceded that he thinks climate change is real. Yesterday, it was just as surprising when Mitt Romney broke with Republican orthodoxy and said the same thing.

“I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that,” he told a crowd of about 200 at a town hall meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire.

“It’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors.”

I’m not sure which is worse: the fact that a basic acknowledgement of reality is considered encouraging and newsworthy, or the fact that this basic acknowledgement of reality will likely be problematic for Romney among Republican voters.

But while I’ll gladly give Romney credit for being in touch with reality, at least on this issue, the next question is what he plans to do about it. To my mind, there are basically three categories:

1. Those who deny the problem.

2. Those who recognize the problem.

3. Those who support fixing the problem.

Huntsman falls into the second category, saying that he’d like to address the climate crisis, but he opposes all of the measures that would make a difference. Romney appears to fall into the same category.

As Josh Nelson explained yesterday, Romney wants to reduce emissions (which is good), but remains “opposed to doing anything productive to solve the problem” (which is bad).

This still strikes me as the worst of all possible positions. At least the climate deniers have a good excuse for opposing solutions: they don’t see a problem and consider the evidence part of an elaborate conspiracy cooked up by communists to destroy America’s way of life.

Romney and Huntsman want to split the difference — believe the science but choose not to do anything about it.

This seems unlikely to impress anyone. Those who recognize the problem won’t care for the negligent attitude, and those who believe the problem is a “hoax” won’t care for the acknowledgement of reality.

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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  • Davis X. Machina on June 04, 2011 11:04 AM:

    This still strikes me as the worst of all possible positions.

    This is similar to a classic novice debate cock-up. Only ninth-graders do it, and they do it exactly once.

    Aping the varsity, they run a counter-plan, and then they fail to adapt the rest of their negative case. So they run a regular significance-and-harms block, and the counterplan.

    In non-debatese 'There is no problem, and our solution to it is better'.

  • Stella on June 04, 2011 12:13 PM:

    There is a fourth category in this debate, though perhaps I'm the only one occupying it -- those who recognize the problem and support solving the problem, but who deny that the problem is so dire that we have to take drastic measures that might have unintended consequences that create worse outcomes (cf. DDT).

  • Anonymous on June 04, 2011 1:41 PM:

    Climate change denial comes in 4 stages, based on a gradually less blatant distortion of the science and each a fall back position from the one before it:

    1. Climate change isn't happening.
    2. Climate change is happening but humans are not contributing to it.
    3. Climate change is happening, humans are contributing to it, but there isn't anything we can do about it.
    4. Climate change is happening, humans are contributing to it, there is something we can do about it, but the costs of action exceeds the benefit.

    Although a few misanthropes like James Inhofe are probably never going to get out of stage 1, it looks like the locus of conservative dogma has shifted to stage 3. Whoop de doo.

  • Anonymous on June 04, 2011 1:53 PM:

    3a. Climate change is happening, humans are contributing to it, and there are things we can do about it, but they involve slightly higher marginal rates of income tax, or a regulatory climate less favorable to our campaign contributors.

  • chi res on June 04, 2011 7:27 PM:

    they donít see a problem and consider the evidence part of an elaborate conspiracy cooked up by communists to destroy Americaís way of life.

    As someone so concerned with the proper use of language--i.e., "end" of Medicare, "vouchers" vs. "premium support"--you should be aware that the correct term for those conspiring to destroy America's way of life these days are SOCIALISTS or NAZIS, but not communists.

    As everyone knows, Ronny Raygun killed all the communists in the 1980's.

  • West of the Cascades on June 04, 2011 7:38 PM:

    Huntsman used to believe that there WAS something you could do about climate change - when he was Governor of Utah, he signed that state onto the Western Climate Initiative, setting a goal (in 2008) of reducing Utah's greenhouse gas emissions to 2005 levels by 2020. It saddens me (as someone who lived in Utah for a bit while he was Governor) he's gone towards the dark side of his party, because he seemed about the sanest Republican around at the time.