BY EMILY ATKIN – – – – –
Say goodbye to the only major Republican presidential candidate who publicly accepts mainstream climate science.
On Monday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) suspended his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Aside from former New York governor George Pataki — who has consistently polled at zero percent and has failed to get his name on primary ballots in multiple states — Graham was the only person in the crowded Republican field who admitted that the planet is warming, that the warming is harmful, and that humans are the primary cause.
Granted, Graham was also not doing particularly well in the presidential race. But his Senate seat gave him greater name recognition and more media attention than other lower-polling candidates, and he sometimes used that attention to call out fellow Republicans who don’t accept the science of climate change.
“I’ve talked to the climatologists of the world, and 90 percent of them are telling me that the greenhouse gas effect is real — that we’re heating up the planet,” Graham said at the CNBC presidential debate in October. “I just want a solution that would be good for the economy that doesn’t destroy it.”
When it comes to the idea that humans are the main cause of climate change, several peer-reviewed surveys involving thousands of climate researchers have all found that the level of consensus is approximately 97 percent. Earlier this month in Paris, nearly 200 countries adopted an agreement to curb global warming, which they also agreed was real and problematic.
But in America, the Republicans running for president don’t accept this consensus.
Many have their own ideas about the phenomenon. Billionaire businessman Donald Trump has theorized that the Chinese created “the concept of global warming” in order to “make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has called climate science “not science,” but “religion.” Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has called the issue “irrelevant.” And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said recently that he believes climate change is “not a crisis,” though he added he was “not relying on any scientists” to make his claim.
Others in the Republican field regularly question whether humans really cause climate change, despite the near-unanimous level of scientific consensus among climate researchers. Ohio Gov. John Kasich has said man-made climate change is “some theory that’s not proven,” and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has said he believes “nature has a role” in current warming. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Sen. Rick Santorum, and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore have all questioned whether climate change is caused by humans.
The rest of the candidates tread carefully around the issue, appearing moderate but failing to say if they actually accept the scientific consensus. Former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina, for example, has said that “scientists tell us that global warming is man-made,” but has also indicated that she does not personally believe those scientists. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has said that the climate “is always changing,” and that he doesn’t agree with scientists who say climate change is solvable. And while former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has acknowledged that humans have “contributed” to climate change, he has also said it’s “arrogant” to accept that there is scientific consensus.
Questioning climate science isn’t unique in the U.S. Republican party. More than 56 percent of Republicans in the 114th Congress and 70 percent of Senate Republicans deny or question the science behind human-caused climate change.
Lindsey Graham, for his part, was often puzzled by this.
“I know I’m not a scientist,” he said this past summer. “But here’s the problem I’ve got with some people in my party: When you ask the scientists what’s going on, why don’t you believe them? If I went to 10 doctors and nine said, ‘Hey, you’re gonna die,’ and one says ‘You’re fine,’ why would I believe the one guy?”