When Asked About Climate Change, US Republican Presidential Candidates Hit New Lows
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At the Fox News debate on Tuesday, Republican candidates for the US presidency were asked if they believed humans contributed to climate change. Not one said yes – despite the US government’s own data showing we’ve increased atmospheric carbon by 50% since 1750 – and one flat-out denied the climate crisis. And the candidate responsible for leaving the country’s climate policies in a mess, didn’t even bother to show up.
“Let us be honest as Republicans,” said millionaire conspiracy theorist and first-time candidate Vivek Ramaswamy. “I’m the only person on the stage who isn’t bought and paid for, so I can say this – the climate change agenda is a hoax.”
That perhaps sums up the deeply concerning Republican candidacy debate this week. Ramaswamy claimed – without evidence, of course – that “more people are dying due to bad climate change policies than they are due to actual climate change”. That’s despite the fact that, in his country, climate-change-caused extreme heat killed 1,500 people last year, according to government body the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers put the real number close to 10,000 every year.
Fact or fiction?
Ramawamy’s answer was amid a host of responses that looked to deflect blame – either on current US president Joe Biden and his administration, or on other countries. Nikki Haley, UN ambassador under the Trump administration, called climate change real, but pushed all of the responsibility to mitigate the crisis upon China and India (seemingly because they have the most people?), while South Carolina’s Tim Scott said it’s Africa’s duty (along with the two nations above).
This is despite the US having the second-highest per capita carbon emissions in the world (behind the UAE) – way more than either India or China. Africa, meanwhile, accounts for less than 3% of total global emissions – the lowest per capita numbers of any region. And the US itself? Since 1850, no country has released more carbon into the atmosphere than the Land of Opportunities, which makes up 20% of all worldwide emissions.
The Republican candidates’ indifference about climate change isn’t as reflective of their voters as they might think. A climate poll by the Washington Post and University of Maryland found that 35% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents think climate change is a major reason for the extreme heat the country has seen recently. Two-thirds of all Americans who witnessed extremely hot weather said climate change was a major factor.
And these numbers are worse for young Republicans – a Pew survey last year found that 73% of Republican voters aged 18-39 thought climate change was an extremely, very or somewhat serious issue.
The question itself was also asked by a member of conservative youth organisation Young America’s Foundation: “How will you as both president of the United States and leader of the Republican party calm their fears that the Republican party doesn’t care about climate change?”
I daresay they didn’t.
The president precedent
There was a large cloud over the climate change discourse (or lack thereof) at Fox’s Republican primary debate. The man who last represented the party as the country’s president – who also happens to be facing three indictments and trials with 78 criminal charges – wasn’t present. Donald Trump had confirmed a few days earlier that he would be skipping the debate.
But his tenure is a good barometer for predicting what another Republican US presidency means for the global climate fight. New York Times data shows that Trump, as the country’s 45th president, successfully rolled back almost 100 climate regulations in his four years in charge – with policies surrounding air pollution and emissions topping the chart. His presence was also a good thing for fossil fuel companies.
Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, meanwhile, had counted 159 actions since Trump took office “to scale back or wholly eliminate climate mitigation and adaptation measures”. This included rolling back predecessor Barack Obama’s last major environmental regulation, which restricted methane leaks. Methane is 80 times more potent at warming than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, and accounts for 12% of the US’s human-led emissions.
Trump also sought to fight the Green New Deal, weakened the country’s most important environmental law, opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, and rejected stronger air pollution standards. Oh, and he was the man who catastrophically pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement.
In 2020 – Trump’s last year in charge – one report calculated that the US could release 1.8 billion tons more greenhouse gases over the next 15 years as a result of the climate change rollbacks his administration had achieved at that point. This would mean the country’s emissions would be 3% higher than if these rollbacks weren’t implemented.
When he was running for re-election, experts said that a win for Trump would mean a loss for the global climate fight. Meanwhile, a top climate scientist said a second Trump term would mean “game over” for the climate. This could also be a reality as far as Republican voters are concerned, with 58% saying they’d vote for Trump in the 2024 US elections – the next best is Florida governor Ron DeSantis, with 14%.
Whoever ends up being the Republican nominee, their rhetoric on climate change and humans’ impact on it – while unsurprising – is still startling. 97% of actively publishing scientists say climate change is happening and caused by humans. Even NASA says there’s “unequivocal evidence” that global heating is real, and that human activity is the “principal cause”.
These politicians claim to be patriotic, but don’t even believe in their own country’s science. Before deflecting the climate question right after saying: “Let’s have this debate,” DeSantis said: “We’re not schoolchildren.”
And you know what, he’s right. Schoolchildren aren’t stupid.