News articles keep presenting GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) as the candidate of “mainstream” Republicans, a kind of moderate, old-fashioned (yet young!) alternative to the specter of Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). But this portrait of Rubio is a mix of fantasy, spin and wishful thinking that just shows how wildly the primary race has pushed the Republican Party to the right and how desperately Republican leaders need a candidate whom they can portray as having views in line with most Americans.
If you want to see how right wing and out of the mainstream Rubio is, in fact if not in manner, you need look no further than his position on climate change. Rubio’s statements as a presidential candidate on the issue are virtually indistinguishable from those of the rest of the climate-denying Republican slate. And it’s another issue, like immigration, on which he’s flip-flopped. At last night’s debate, he ran away again from his support years ago for climate action, providing a contorted answer that nonetheless left no doubt that he has no interest now in addressing our biggest environmental threat.
What has Rubio’s take on climate been in recent years? Despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, Rubio told ABC News in 2014, “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.” Rubio added the usual Republican throw-away evasion of not being a scientist, but he gave no reason for doubting those who are. In March of last year Rubio even voted against a simple resolution recognizing that climate change is real and that human activity is a contributing factor.
Rubio’s denialism has real consequences. He has promised repeatedly to reverse the Obama administration’s policies aimed at addressing the problem. He has vowed to gut the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which unleashed a torrent of carbon pollution reduction commitments from nations across the globe ahead of the Paris climate talks late last year.
Even though a growing majority of Americans support federal limits on carbon pollution, Rubio has backtracked from professing support for climate action in 2007. Today he’s fallen in line with the GOP’s polluter-funded strategy of casting doubt about reality.
That may have earned him the endorsement of the Senate’s greatest climate change denier, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who last year threw a snowball on the Senate floor during a speech in which he claimed climate change is a “hoax”.
Inhofe and Rubio’s environmental positions are part of a larger trend in their party. Despite the majority of Republican voters saying they support regulating carbon and prefer more renewable energy, Republican politicians have become increasingly radicalized on the issue of climate change. Nearly all the GOP’s remaining presidential hopefuls have strikingly similar energy plans that call for killing regulations—especially the Clean Power Plan—and investing in fossil fuels by expanding drilling and approving the Keystone XL pipeline. Now that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and New York Gov. George Pataki have both dropped out of the race, the GOP presidential field is entirely made up of climate deniers.
“America is not a planet,” Rubio once helpfully reminded us, suggesting that the U.S. ought not act on climate change alone. Now that American leadership has helped produce the Paris framework that includes commitments from nearly every nation on Earth to fight climate change, Rubio will need to come up with a new excuse not to act on one of the most obviously important problems of our time.
Any move by America’s next president to end our leadership on climate change, kill the Clean Power Plan rules and renege on our promises in Paris would unravel that historic agreement, likely dooming a planet-wide effort to avoid the worst effects of global warming.
Even among this year’s Republican contenders, no one holding such views should ever be described as mainstream.