By David Roberts
26 May 2015
(Vox) – Jeb Bush has been having a rough time, offering an evolving series of not-quite-coherent answers on the question of whether the Iraq War was a good idea. It's catnip for journalists, and they've hounded him about it relentlessly.
If the public or journalists cared as much about climate change as they do about the Iraq War, they'd take note of a series of Bush comments on that subject just as incoherent and unstable. His position can't stand up to the slightest scrutiny; his only hope is that it doesn't get any.
What's interesting about Bush's current stance on climate change is not that it's wrong (though it is), but what it says about the prospects of developing a climate change message that can help a GOP candidate survive the primary without hurting in the general election. So far, things are not looking good on that front.
Bush was asked about climate change at a house party last week and sketched out his position. It is roughly as follows:
- The climate is changing, but we don't know why. "I don't think the science is clear of what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural. It's convoluted," he said.
- It is "arrogant" to claim human responsibility for climate change has been determined. "For the people to say the science is decided on this is really arrogant, to be honest with you," he said. "It's this intellectual arrogance that now you can't have a conversation about it, even."
- Climate change is not a high priority, but we should do something about it. "The climate is changing. We need to adapt to that reality," he said. "I don't think it's the highest priority. I don't think we should ignore it, either."
- We shouldn't solve climate change Obama's way. "The president's approach is, effectively, reduce economic activity to lower our carbon footprint," he said. "That's not what he says, of course, but that's the result of his policies."
- Instead, we should subsidize fracking. Rather than focusing on carbon emissions, Bush said, the federal government should provide more incentives for lower carbon-producing forms of energy, like hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling.
Why Jeb Bush is wrong
Bush's position is nonsense.
First, we do know why the climate is changing: humans are doing it. In the fourth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in 2007, scientists put the probability that humans have caused "most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century" at 90 percent. In 2013's Fifth Assessment Report, the IPCC upped it to 95 percent. Some 97 percent of climate scientists agree on this point.
Outside of basic physical laws, very little in science boasts this degree of confidence. It's roughly how confident we are that smoking is linked to lung cancer. Does Bush think it "arrogant" to call that matter settled?
If the climate is changing but humans are not contributing to it, then all we can do is, as Bush says, "adapt to it." But then why would we subsidize "lower carbon-producing forms of energy"? Why would we make any attempt to lower carbon dioxide emissions at all? If human CO2 emissions aren't causing climate to change, there's no reason to reduce them.
And finally, as a conservative, if you did want to reduce CO2 emissions (even though you were uncertain they were causing any problem), why, instead of adopting a market-friendly carbon tax like some in your party have proposed, or at least industry-wide performance standards like EPA is implementing, would you choose to subsidize a select few favored technologies? That seems like old-fashioned industrial policy, not free-market conservatism. [more]