Thursday, August 18, 2011

Political Risks Associated with Bashing Climate Change Science

Less than a week into Rick Perry's campaign and his positions on climate change have become an important part of the political narrative of his campaign and, perhaps even more so, those opposing his campaign.

The New York Times reports that Republican candidate continue to use EPA and climate change to make political points.  This storyline has been featured on this blog by Lesley McAllister yesterday and me and by Dan Farber on Legal Planet.

However, the tables began to turn this past week as Rick Perry began to be haunted by his positions on climate change science.  Perhaps the most effective attempt at this comes from Washington Post columnist Alexandra Petri in her article, "Rick Perry, global warming and those durn scientists."  The major point of her article is that Rick Perry's position puts his gut feeling against science, scientists, and data.  This line of argument, of course, is meant to paint Rick Perry as a cheap Geoge W. Bush knock off.  Other have been less subtle in making that point.  For example, the Atlantic pressed the question, “Is America Ready for 'George W. Bush on Steroids?'"

While the argument has not yet been made to its fullest, it will be assuming that a Republican candidate who questioned the science of climate change becomes the party's nominee.  Ultimately, candidates will be much better positioned for the general election if they focus on what we ought to do given what we know from science.  It seems that defining ones position on climate change by attacking climate change science leads to a place where the candidate looks unreasonable--like one who thinks of scientists (as Petri put it), as people who "tend not to reemerge until they’ve made a nuclear bomb or electrocuted a boxed cat or come up with special relativity." 

If Perry becomes the nominee and has to face up to the full political fallout associated with his position, for the first time he will come to understand that failing to adapt to the reality of climate change comes at a cost--for him that cost might be the election.

-- Brigham Daniels

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