The past week has confirmed that climate paralysis reigns in the GOP. Michele Bachmann has been relishing her first-place finish in the Iowa Straw Poll, but Ron Paul came in just 152 votes behind her. That counts as a toss-up in my book, and I can't decide which one is worse: Bachmann, who denies that climate change exists, or Paul, who acknowledges that climate change might be real but doesn't believe government should do anything about it.
The new golden boy of the race, Governor Rick Perry, shares Bachmann's refusal to accept the reality of man-made global warming. But unlike Bachmann, he stands a good chance of winning the party's nomination. And that could have major implications for our country's energy future.
Believe it or not, a Republican president doesn't necessarily spell the end of climate action. Most major pieces of environmental legislation have passed when a Republican sat in the Oval Office: President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act, President Ford signed the Safe Drinking Water Act, and President H. W. Bush signed the Clean Air Act Amendments (which launched a cap-and-trade program to reduce acid rain pollution).
A GOP candidate or president with a moderate stance on climate change could move America down the road to reducing carbon pollution. But one who doesn't even acknowledge the problem will make our nation's eventual response cost too much and come too late. Unfortunately, Perry is squarely in the denial camp.
As Dylan Matthews points out in a piece in The Washington Post, Perry wrote in his requisite campaign book that "we have been experiencing a cooling trend, that the complexities of the global atmosphere have often eluded the most sophisticated scientists, and that draconian policies with dire economic effects based on so-called science may not stand the test of time."
Last week PolitiFact.com examined a similar claim when Tim Pawlenty told The Miami Herald that climate science is "in dispute." PolitiFact.com puts politicians' statements through its so-called "Truth-o-Meter," and most of the time the needle points somewhere in between True and False. For Pawlenty's claim -- and by extension Perry's -- the needle rested squarely on False.
This is Flat Earth territory. This is "I choose not to believe in gravity" wackiness.
I can find common ground with a GOP leader who acknowledges scientific data because, while we might have different views about the policies we need to address the problem, at least we can agree on the facts. But I can't imagine that someone who so willfully ignores the evidence can successfully govern a country.
Perry has pronounced that he will not watch Al Gore's slide show on climate change. What if someday he decides he will not hear the security briefings from the CIA? What if he decides to stop listening to the people at the Federal Reserve? Is that any way to lead the nation? We don't get to pick the facts of our times, but we do get to choose how we confront them.
There is something I share with Perry: a belief in prayer. But even here, Perry takes the easy way out. During his famous prayer vigil a few weeks ago, Perry called on the audience to pray for victims of the droughts plaguing the country -- which is ironic, given that scientists tie global warming to increased frequency and severity of droughts. I am happy to join in that prayer, but my work doesn't end there. I also do my part to solve the problem intensifying those droughts: climate change.
I believe God hears our prayers but expects us to do our part. My brother just had a stroke at the age of 28. My family and all our friends prayed as hard as we could that he would recover, but we also made sure he got to the hospital and did what the doctors told him.
Ignoring climate change doesn't make it go away. And it is unlikely that resorting only to prayer without actions will work, either. We need leaders -- of either party -- who can acknowledge what science tells us and meet in the middle to craft smart policy to deal with it. The GOP has a history of doing that on environmental matters. Someone just has to remind their party frontrunners of that fact.