What Do The Republican Candidates Really Think About Climate Change?

Bill Scher

Republicans have come a long way on climate change. Unfortunately that way is down.

Twenty-three years ago, Republican President George H. W. Bush not only acknowledged climate change was real. He signed an international climate change treaty, which the Senate actually ratified. And he signed the 1990 Clean Air Act, a law that provides some of the basis for the latest round of EPA climate regulations.

In 2000, George W. Bush campaigned on requiring “all power plants to meet clean-air standards in order to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide within a reasonable period of time.” (It took only 15 years and another president to fulfill that pledge.)

In 2008, Republicans nominated John McCain, who campaigned on installing an economy-wide carbon cap through a “cap-and-trade” system. He only differed with his opponent on how much carbon the cap should limit.

Today, only one Republican presidential candidate is making a clear call to act on climate.

However, characterizing the Republican field is not as simple as deeming them all climate science deniers. If you look closely – and squint real hard – you’ll find slight differences that can give an optimist a glimmer of hope.

We can group the Republicans into four categories: Deniers, Duckers, Dancers and Realists.


Republican climate realists may not be constructive in forming policy solutions, but they at least are unequivocal that global warming is real and human activity is at fault.

Chris Christie: In May he was forthright: “I think global warming is real. I don’t think that’s deniable. And I do think human activity contributes to it.” However, he pulled New Jersey out of a regional cap-and-trade program in 2010. In 2014, a judge found he did so illegally.

Lindsey Graham: He not only accepts the science, he also calls for action. He began his presidential campaign by saying to CNN:

I do believe that climate change is real. I want a business solution to that problem. … When 90 percent of the doctors tell you you’ve got a problem, do you listen to the one? At the end of the day, I do believe that the CO2 emission problem all over the world is hurting our environment. But the solution is a pro-business solution to a lower-carbon economy.

Graham helped draft a bipartisan cap-and-trade bill in 2010, but withdrew his support after the BP spill upset the tenuous compromise between environmentalists and oil companies.

George Pataki: In 2007 Pataki led a climate task force that recommended a cap-and-trade system, but he hasn’t commented on the subject recently.


Dancers acknowledge climate change is happening and that something should be done in response, but they dance around the question whether humans cause climate change as well as what the policy response should be.

Jeb Bush: In April Bush suggested he believed global warming was real but still pitted environmental action against creating jobs:

The climate is changing and I’m concerned about that. But to be honest with you, I’m more concerned about the hollowing out of our country, the hollowing out of our industrial core, the hollowing out of our ability to compete in an increasingly competitive world.

For a solution, he effectively suggested doing nothing, pointing to the current trend away from coal toward natural gas: “We can continue to reduce carbon emissions by taking advantage of the abundance of natural gas.”

He has, though, actually embraced the concept of an international agreement, albeit without crediting Obama for pursuing one: “We need to restore our competitive posture, which I think our energy revolution will allow us to do, and then simultaneously … be cognizant of the fact that we have this climate change issue and we need to work with the rest of the world to negotiate a way to reduce carbon emissions.”

In May, he refused to accept settled science saying:

I don’t think the science is clear of what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural. It’s convoluted … For the people to say the science is decided on this is really arrogant, to be honest with you. It’s this intellectual arrogance that now you can’t have a conversation about it, even.

Then he danced between not prioritizing the issue and prodding Republicans to produce solutions:

I don’t think it’s the highest priority. I don’t think we should ignore it, either … Just generally I think as conservatives we should embrace innovation, embrace technology, embrace science. … Sometimes I sense that we pull back from the embrace of these things. We shouldn’t.

John Kasich: He walks a similar line as Jeb, though he comes closer to outright accepting the climate science.

In 2012, Kasich said at an energy forum:

I am a believer — my goodness I am a Republican — I happen to believe there is a problem with climate change. I don’t want to overreact to it, I can’t measure it all, but I respect the creation that the Lord has given us and I want to make sure we protect it … But we can’t overreact to it and make things up, but it is something we have to recognize is a problem.

At the same event he embraced coal:

We are going to continue to work on cleaning coal, but I want to tell you, we are going to dig it, we are going to clean it, and we are going to burn it in Ohio, and we are not going to apologize for it.

Last week on Meet The Press, he made a similar statement, while also claiming climate change was unproven:

The Lord gave us the environment. We’re not here to worship it, but we are here to manage it … I think that man absolutely affects the environment, but as to … what the impact is, the overall impact I think that’s a legitimate debate … In my state of Ohio … we’ve reduced emissions by 30 percent over the last 10 years. We believe in alternative energy. So of course we have to be sensitive to it, but we don’t want to destroy people’s jobs based on some theory that’s not proven.

Kasich, the governor of Ohio, joined a failed lawsuit to prevent the EPA from issuing climate regulations on power plants.

Rand Paul: Despite a long history of climate science denials, this year he voted for a Senate amendment that said humans play “at least some” role in climate change. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz voted against that amendment.


Duckers do all they can to avoid giving a straight answer about the climate science.

Ben Carson: The one person with a medical degree in the race gives the question a big shrug: “There’s always going to be either cooling or warming going on. As far as I’m concerned, that’s irrelevant. What is relevant is that we have an obligation and a responsibility to protect our environment.”

Carly Fiorina: She ducks the question whether we should accept climate science in order to make excuses for inaction.

In April she told MSNBC:

Let’s say global warming or climate change has played a role in [the drought]. What all the scientists also tell us is that a single state, or single nation acting alone can make no difference acting alone. If we want to accept the science, we have to read the fine print. California can be the most onerous regulatory regime in the world, which they are, and it won’t make a bit of difference in climate change.

Fiorina blames the California drought not on climate change but on “liberal environmentalists [who] have prevented the building of a single new reservoir or a single new water conveyance system over decades during a period in which California’s population has doubled.”

Bobby Jindal: Last September he punted to the scientists as if they hadn’t already come to a conclusion: “It’s not controversial to say that human activity is contributing in some way. The question is how serious that is … I’d leave it to the scientists to decide how much, what it means, and what the consequences are … Let the scientists debate and figure that out.”

Scott Walker: He has so far avoided giving a direct answer regarding his views on climate science.


Deniers going to deny, though some are more creative than others.

Ted Cruz: In June he said global warming is a “pseudoscientific theory” since “Satellite data shows there has been no significant recorded warming. None.”

Mike Huckabee: He not only denies the science, he denies his past acceptance of the science.

When he ran for president in 2008, he supported cap-and-trade. In 2009, he lied and denied ever taking that position. In 2013, he falsely argued, “The volcano that erupted over in Northern Europe actually poured more CO2 into the air in that single act of nature than all of humans have in something like the past 100 years.”

In January, he mocked the President’s insistence that climate change is our greatest long-term threat. “Not to diminish anything about the climate at all, but Mr. President, I believe that most of us would think that a beheading is a far greater threat to an American than a sunburn.”

Rick Perry: Perry is probably the only former Al Gore supporter who is a climate science denier. His history of denial is long, but most recently he said: “Calling CO2 a pollutant is doing a disservice the country, and I believe a disservice to the world.”

Marco Rubio: In May he said, “I don’t agree with the notion that some are putting out there, including scientists, that somehow, there are actions we can take today that would actually have an impact on what’s happening in our climate. Our climate is always changing … I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it … And I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy.”

Rick Santorum: In June he called climate science, “speculative science, which has proven over time not to have checked out.”

Donald Trump: He has tweeted repeatedly that global warming is a “hoax.” In June he was slightly more charitable: “I’m not a huge believer in the global warming phenomenon … Oh there could be some manmade to- I’m not saying that there’s zero. But not nearly to the extent [as] when Obama gets up said it’s the number one problem in our country…”

Get updates in your inbox