Bobby Jindal's Soft Climate-Change Skepticism

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal wants a conservative alternative to the Affordable Care Act. (National Journal)

If Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to be the next president, he faces a delicate political task in articulating his position on climate change.

On one end, endorsing the scientific consensus that human activity is the main driver of recent climate change would be a hazardous move if he intends to navigate a Republican presidential primary.

But rejecting any connection between the two would pose its own challenges if he tries to win over moderates in a nationwide election, handing his opponents fodder to label him as "anti-science."

So where is Jindal? He's staking out terrain that could help inoculate him from liberals' allegations of outright "denial," yet remains outside the scientific mainstream. He doesn't reject a connection between human activity and climate change. But Jindal says that the degree of that connection is unknown.

Here's part of the climate section in a new energy policy paper that Jindal released Tuesday through his America Next advocacy group:

"Nobody disputes that the climate is always changing. The question is what is the role of humans in that change—and what, if any, dangers that change presents for Americans.

"However, the highly politicized nature of this debate has taken real, practical solutions to address potential climate risks off the table."

And according to the Los Angeles Times, Jindal told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor-hosted breakfast Tuesday that he believes humans are causing some amount of climate change but "the real question is how much."

But that framing, which casts the role of human-induced emissions as an open question, doesn't line up especially well with major scientific reports and professional societies.

Consider this year's jointly released explainer on climate change from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society, a major British scientific body. "Scientists know that recent climate change is largely caused by human activities from an understanding of basic physics, comparing observations with models, and fingerprinting the detailed patterns of climate change caused by different human and natural influences."

The American Meteorological Society states: "It is clear from extensive scientific evidence that the dominant cause of the rapid change in climate of the past half century is human-induced increases in the amount of atmospheric greenhouse gases."

The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in the first piece of a massive report released in stages over the last year, concluded: "It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century." ("Extremely likely" in their parlance means at least a 95 percent chance.) The U.N. and other bodies say climate change has already begun taking a toll worldwide.

Still, Jindal's stance appears to put him to the left of Sen. Ted Cruz, another possible White House contender, who has been more dismissive of climate concerns.

Jindal's plan would block Environmental Protection Agency carbon-emissions rules that he alleges would be economically stifling and more broadly says the U.S. should avoid "unilateral steps" that put the nation at a disadvantage with trading partners.

The plan does, however, offer support for green energy R&D to help address "possible risks" of climate, better forest management to reduce fires and some other steps. He also calls for the U.S to walk away from the United Nations-hosted talks aimed at crafting a global climate pact, while preparing for a "realistic" process of future talks with major economies.

"We can take simple steps to address the possible risks of climate change but in concert with other major economies," he said Tuesday in remarks at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

If Jindal is less dismissive of dangerous, human-induced climate change than some other Republicans, he's ceding little ground when it comes to bashing environmentalists. "For most radical environmentalists, their response to any questioning of their views on climate change is simply to yell, 'Heretic!' " the new paper states.

At Heritage, Jindal said that climate change is a "Trojan horse" for the Left's plans to try and reshape the economy and people's lives to their liking. "It's an excuse for the government to come in and tell us what kind of homes we live in, what kind of cars we drive, what kind of lifestyles we can enjoy," he said.

The policy paper contains a suite of policy ideas, many of them familiar in GOP circles, such as expanding areas available for drilling, approving the Keystone XL pipeline, and rolling back federal regulations.

"We truly can be an energy superpower, we can truly harvest our energy resources grow our energy resources to supercharge our economy," Jindal said.