The GOP is ceding important ground by tolerating and encouraging denialism on this critical topic.
Mitt Romney's remarks on NBC's Meet the Press earlier this month rankled environmental activists hoping for a bipartisan approach to climate change. "I'm not in this race to slow the rise of the oceans or to heal the planet," the Republican presidential nominee told David Gregory. "I'm in this race to help the American people."
The comment was meant as a dig at some of President Obama's more high-flying rhetoric from the 2008 campaign, but it also laid bare a significant difference in outlook between the parties: When it comes to the issue of climate change, Republicans have taken a decidedly unrealistic tack.
The available evidence overwhelmingly suggests that climate change is real; that extreme weather events are increasing, likely due to climate change; and that this dynamic will have an impact on American national-security interests, if it hasn't already. This year's curiously hot summer was accompanied by the worst drought that the U.S. has experienced in 50 years -- a phenomenon that not only hurts Americans, but is having ripple effects throughout the world as crops wither and food prices increase in nations that can barely afford the price shocks. But the GOP's leading political figures have not been raising the alarm about the connection.
That's unfortunate -- both for the GOP and for America. While the GOP has traditionally held an electoral advantage on national-security issues -- something that apparently will not be the case in this year's election -- its stance on environmental issues also could have a decidedly negative impact on American national security.
Climate change denialism remains a powerful current within the Republican party, and is a stance honored by most of the candidates who sought this year's GOP presidential nomination. Though Romney argued for reductions in carbon emissions when he governed Massachusetts, he changed his tune on the campaign trail. He said at one point that he thought the world was getting hotter, but added, "I don't know that, but I think that it is." As to human contributions, Romney allowed, "It could be a little. It could be a lot." On another occasion, Romney stated outright, "My view is that we don't know what's causing climate change on this planet."
Meanwhile, the evidence that climate change is a real and pressing problem continues to mount. Not only do heat records continue to fall, but the extreme weather events that we have seen with increasing regularity further underscore the problem. As James Hansen, who directs the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, wrote recently about a new analysis he conducted of six decades of temperature data, "our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change." Events that can be attributed to climate change, according to his research, include the deadly heat wave that gripped Europe in 2003, the heat wave that rocked Russia in 2010 and caused spontaneous fires, and the droughts that have hit Texas and Oklahoma.