How Republicans Talk About Climate When No One’s Listening

Photo by Gene1138, <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/gene1138/4146921306/sizes/m/in/photostream/">via Flickr</a>.

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Sarah Palin may now dismiss global warming as a “bunch of snake oil science,” but just a few years ago, back when she was governor of the state melting into the sea, she was inclined to care about the subject. It’s well-known that she established a task force to address climate change in the state, but later flip-flopped on the issue. Yet as one exchange in the trove of emails released by the state of Alaska last week shows, Palin at one point actually took climate science quite seriously.

In an email exchange from July 2007, Palin discussed global warming with her brother, Chuck Heath Jr., who was taking part in a climate change study program for science teachers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the state’s environment commissioner. Heath wrote:

Sarah, I’m just about done with my 80 hour course on global climate change. Most of it has been focused on coastal erosion which is probably a bigger deal than you’re aware of … I have met some of the top scientists in the world on the subject and if you’d like, I can organize another advisory task force (which would include scientists, economists, citizens who live in these areas) who can give recommendations to the state. The problem is accelerating quickly so it would be good to get a handle on it now.

Palin forwarded the message to Lawrence Hartig, the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. She mentioned her hope that the state is “really getting serious about dealing with climate change impacts.” She added: “I’m getting more and more enthused about digging into the subject and working on it.”

None of this is to say that Palin’s administration was all that progressive when it came to climate change policy. She created the climate task force but then ignored its recommendations. Her administration also sued the federal government for listing the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, due to the impacts of global warming.

What’s most interesting is that Republicans—particularly the GOP’s presidential contenders, declared and otherwise—have widely been written off as anti-science by their foes on the left. It’s little wonder, with Michele Bachmann arguing that carbon dioxide is nothing more than plant food and Rick Santorum maintaining that he’s never been fooled by science. But in the case of Palin, it’s not that she refudiates the science, as she might say. What’s more likely is that she’s made the calculation that caring about global warming isn’t particularly politically advantageous right now. She’s not alone of course—both Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich have taken similar approaches. But in her case, Alaska’s email dump contains an interesting insight into what she believes when she’s not running for national office.

More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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