Speaking in the most general terms this country's political parties have each taken up one side in the climate debate; with Democrats typically in favor of policies to reduce emissions and incentivize renewable forms of energy to mitigate climate change, while Republicans typically arguing that these policies just add more taxes and hurt the economy. Underlying this is the basic assumption that Democrats believe climate change is really happening, is a real threat, and the science behind it is undisputable. Conversely the perception is that Republicans think man made climate change is all a bunch of hogwash and either can't be proved or is completely debatable at this point that there is no reason to act.
Whether or not all Republicans politicians and elected officials believe this, well only they know that, but when they say these things, with the aim of growing support from their conservative base, we can only take their comments on face value.
However not all Republicans are of this opinion, in fact several very prominent figures in that party have acknowledged that man made climate change is real, or at least the science seems to add up, and its a real problem. Among those are our own governor; Chris Christie, and also former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who is angling for the GOP Presidential nomination in 2012.
In the case of the always controversial Christie, he has an interesting track record in this area. He has come out saying that human activity is impacting the climate and that this isn't a good thing, he has show strong support of developing offshore wind energy in New Jersey, as well as continue other progressive energy policies in the state. However he has also pulled New Jersey out of Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (also known as RGGI). The Governor stated when withdrawing NJ from its commitments to RGGI that it was still important to reduce greenhouse gas emissions due to the potential impacts of climate change. He followed up by saying he simply did not feel the benefits of RGGI and its emissions reduction goals outweighed the economic impacts it would have on businesses and residents of NJ through higher energy rates.
Christie was slammed by many environmentalists for withdrawing from RGGI, and many thought it was a clear sign that despite some things he may say about climate science, he either really doesn't believe them or that he is putting big business ahead of the environment. Judging from Christie's track record thus far, perhaps he is simply taking an approach that we aren't used to. If Democrats are typically strongly in favor of policies based on doom and gloom climate forecasts, and Republicans typically act like nothing is happen at all with the climate, maybe Christie represents the middle of the road in policy towards climate change and our energy portfolio's role in it?
Christie backed out of RGGI, a cap a trade system. Cap and trade is often criticized as a shell game when it comes to reducing emissions and developing a clear climate policy. Where are funds going? Is there a clear benefit? Are emissions reductions in one sector simply covering up emissions from another? There are certainly legitimate questions and criticisms when it comes to cap and trade, not to mention how effective really is a regional cap and trade system when state a few hundred miles away can pollute all they want? Leaving RGGI might not have been Christie displaying a lack of concern on climate policy, but simply a lack of confidence in the ability of RGGI to substantially achieve anything.
Meanwhile NJ remains strongly behind the offshore wind industry, such that it is very likely that the first offshore wind farm in the U.S. will be in NJ waters within the next two years. Many conservatives, especially those in the Tea Party movement have blasted offshore wind as a scam that is only viable with heavy government subsidy coming from your tax dollars. Christie it would seem thinks differently; realizing the ACTUAL reduction in fossil fuel that can come from offshore wind energy and the potential boom in manufacturing jobs that could by positioning NJ as the hub of this industry.
Christie might be demonstrating that he is going to just ignore what scientists are telling us about climate change, but maybe he is just not ready to tie us down to every policy out there to reduce emissions. He wants to pick winners and losers when it comes to the solutions, winners that are not just good for the environment, but also good the economy.
Being our current governor, it is easier to make inferences about Christie than it is about current Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman. However Huntsman has made news recently that everyone wants to point out as him flip flopping or backtracking on climate policy. So while many want to point to this as him changing stance to fit the whims of the broader Republican base (and that's probably true), I would not say it is as cut and dry as many make it out to be.
Previously Huntsman has said he trusts scientists when it comes to global warming (or climate change, whichever you prefer at this point). However as reported by many national sources including Time and The Atlantic he came back with the following statement while speaking before a conservative group on December 6th;
"I don't know - I'm not a scientist, nor am I a physicist. But I would defer to science in that discussion. And I would say that the scientific community owes us more in terms of a better description or explanation about what might lie beneath all of this. But there's not enough information right now to be able to formulate policies in terms of addressing it overall."
I guess some see that as backtracking, but to me its saying what anyone with a moderate stance on climate policy would say; that they aren't a scientist, so making sense of all the various data sources and models isn't something they are qualified to do. And furthermore, that there are lots of conflicting models and data sets. So maybe, just maybe, it not as cut and dry to make incredibly sweeping policy points on climate change right now.
Detractors would claim his comments have the unabashed climate denier / anti-science slant to them. But that's not what I make of it. I don't think Huntsman is flat out saying we aren't sure of the science of climate change, because yes we are pretty sure on that. What it looks like he is saying is that nobody is sure just to what extent our actions are impacting the climate and what amount of change will actually occur.
To me this sounds like a very reasonable position. Now that does not mean you sit on your hands if you are in a position to make policy, which Huntsman clearly wants to be when Inauguration Day 2013 rolls around. But I would think, or at least hope, that he is taking much the same approach that Christie has in NJ. That there are some policies related to climate change that we should move on, such as creating a clean energy industry and economy. And there are also other policies that mitigate climate change, but also can slow economic growth, and maybe we shouldn't be so willing to jump into those yet.
Polls right now show that it's unlikely that Huntsman will be the nominee come campaign season next year, so in some ways there isn't a big need to pick apart his comments. And I really haven't formulated an opinion on him one way or the other. However when you see Republicans like Christie and Huntsman get blasted as being a typical conservative burying their head in the sand, it's not as simple as them just being conservative deniers. There are some in the middle of the road on climate policy, and that's actually a good thing.