Tonight, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) will offer the rebuttal to President Obama's State of the Union address. This isn't a casual designation: Top Republicans and outside commentators are hailing the young Senator as the very future of the GOP.
One issue where Rubio sharply contrasts with Obama is climate change. With record-high temperatures and devastating weather events inflicting hardship on millions of Americans, Obama made the need for urgent action on global warming a key component of his inaugural address last month:
We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.
The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise. That's how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure.
In a video chat earlier this month with Buzzfeed, Rubio expressed a diametrically opposed view. He declined to accept the overwhelming scientific consensus that the climate change of recent decades has been caused by human activity. "Well, first of all," he said, "the climate's always changing." He added, "I know people said there's a significant scientific consensus on that issue, but I've actually seen reasonable debate on that principle."
As to Obama's point that seeking alternative energy sources will prove a boon to the U.S. economy, again, Rubio offered a very different opinion. He said that reforms aimed at curbing emissions would be futile because "the U.S. is a country, not a planet" and can't turn the tide if other major consumers of fossil fuels, like China and India, don't also reform. Then he said, "On the other hand, if we unilaterally impose these things on the economy, it will have a devastating impact."
So Rubio believes, apparently, that (1) global warming is not a proven danger; and (2) reducing reliance on fossil fuels will be very bad for the U.S. economy.
Although Rubio may come to these views out of conviction, it's worth noting that they are consistent with the intense views of some of his major financial supporters.
Just for example, when he made his successful 2010 run for a Senate seat, Rubio received more money from Koch Industries, $32,200, than any other candidate for Senate that year and any other federal candidate outside Kansas, where the Koch brothers' enterprise has its headquarters. The Koch brothers are leaders in the climate change denial movement; they have poured more than $67 million into efforts to deny that human activity is heating up the planet. And the Kochs don't do this simply out of the goodness of their hearts; Koch Industries, the second largest privately-held company in America, is heavily invested in oil and gas.
Rubio's biggest donor group by a wide margin was the conservative group Club for Growth, whose officials provided $346,450. Club for Growth denies the science of climate change and strongly opposes action. It also lobbied against relief for the victims of megastorm Sandy.
For good measure, oil and gas giants ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Devon Energy, coal titan Murray Energy, and Florida's Sunshine Gasoline Distributors are also among the 100 biggest donors to Rubio.
When Marco Rubio tells America that climate change may not be a concern, and that there would be huge harm, in doing anything about it, it's worth asking whether his ties to America's biggest dirty energy companies, and the climate denial industry they bankroll, are influencing his views.
This article also appears on Republic Report.