Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Stop Asking Candidates Whether They "Believe in" Climate Change. That's Not the Real Question.

As debate season is now upon us, we've gotten to learn--anew--that many Republicans doubt, deny, or downplay the reality of anthropogenic climate change.

Here's Paul Ryan in a recent debate:
One of the sharpest differences came when the moderator asked each candidate if he thought human activity is to blame for changes to the planet's climate. "I don't know the answer to that question," Ryan said. "I don't think science does, either."
Mitch "I'm not a scientist" McConnell evaded the question in a debate yesterday, as he has on other occasions. 
Here's CO-SEN candidate and current House rep Cory Gardner evading the question last week:
Gardner was asked during a debate in Denver with Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) to give a simple answer as to whether "humans are contributing significantly to climate change." Pressed multiple times, he declined to say, insisting it was too complicated for a one-word answer.
"Well, I've said all along, climate is changing --" Gardner began.
He was reminded by debate moderators that he was supposed to say "yes" or "no," and then would have the opportunity for expansive comments later.
"Look, this is an important issue and I don't think you can say yes or no," Gardner replied.
The moderators again said he would get a minute later to explain his answer.
"I believe that the climate is changing, I disagree to the extent that it's been in the news," that man has contributed to climate change, Gardner finally said, interrupted by the clearly pro-Udall crowd.
I'm sure I could find many other examples from candidate Q&As or debates. However, the problem is that they are being asked a stupid question.

No self-respecting moderator should be asking candidates whether or not they "believe in" anthropogenic climate change. They should be asking candidates how they plan to respond to it.
Asking the question "Do you believe in anthropogenic climate change?" gives a certain veneer of credibility or respectability to the "no" answer, a credibility or respectability which it does not deserve. We do not need to be discussing whether climate change is real or whether it is human-influenced. We know that. And we know that we need to act.

Asking the real question--how to address climate change--presents an opportunity for substantive policy discussions, something often lacking in these candidate forums and televised debates. And it puts candidates from both parties on the spot. If Republicans are going to hedge about the reality of climate change, don't give them an easy out. Make them deny the factual premise of the question and look like a fool for doing so. Democrats and the rare moderate Republican do not deserve gold stars for acknowledging anthropogenic climate change. They need to be putting forward meaningful solutions to this multi-faceted crisis.

We don't need to be debating science. We need to be debating ethics and policy.

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