Marcus: As climate evolves, Rubio's attitude toward it devolves

By Ruth Marcus, Columbian Syndicated Columnist

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photoRuth Marcus

‘I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it,” said Sen. Marco Rubio. Thus did the Florida Republican undermine his other assertion, to ABC’s Jonathan Karl: that he is prepared to be president.

“Our climate is always changing,” Rubio further hole-dug. “And what they have chosen to do is take a handful of decades of research and say that this is now evidence of a longer-term trend that’s directly and almost solely attributable to man-made activity. I do not agree with that.”

Rubio certainly isn’t alone among Republicans in dissing the scientific consensus — “these scientists,” he says, flicking away reams of data as the fevered imaginings of climate true-believers. And his phrasing is cleverly careful, with caveats and straw men that allow him to stop short of outright denialism while comforting the party’s denialist base.

Consider Rubio on CNN last week: “I understand that there’s a vast consensus of scientists that are saying that human activity is what’s contributing to changes in our climate.”

So far, so good, but does Rubio agree? He doesn’t say, but in an interview last year with BuzzFeed — an interview Rubio’s office flagged for me as emblematic of his views on climate change — Rubio suggested there was “reasonable debate” on the role of human activity.

With CNN, Rubio instead pivoted straight to the straw man: “I think it’s an enormous stretch to say that every weather incident that we now read about or the majority of them are attributable to human activity.” But, of course, no scientist is making that stretch.

Just this week, two groups of scientists offered disturbing assessments about what they deemed the unstoppable melting of Antarctic ice sheets, driven in part by human-caused global warming and threatening catastrophic rises in sea levels.

But if Rubio doesn’t believe the scientists, perhaps he might believe … himself. As the Miami Herald recounted, “As the leader of the Florida House in 2008, Rubio presided over a unanimous vote in favor of directing the state Department of Environmental Protection to develop ground rules for companies to limit their carbon emissions.”

The following year, Rubio described a cap-and-trade system as “inevitable” and pronounced himself “in favor of giving the Department of Environmental Protection a mandate that they go out and design a cap-and-trade or a carbon tax program.”

According to the Herald, Rubio “hired a leading climate change expert” — eek, a scientist! — “from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to advise lawmakers.” Rubio claimed the following year that he was actually engineering a plan to stop cap-and-trade.

'I’m not a scientist'

Since then, Rubio has moved from disclaiming scientific expertise to deriding it.

“I’m not a scientist. I’m not qualified to make that decision,” Rubio told the Herald in December 2009 when asked whether climate change was the result of human activity. Climate change, by the way, isn’t the only issue on which Rubio punted to scientists: When GQ asked in 2012 how old the Earth is, Rubio demurred, “I’m not a scientist, man.”

Which is it, senator? You don’t know as much as these scientists or you don’t believe them?

Rubio’s shift sadly mirrors his party’s. As Paul Waldman recounts on washingtonpost.com, in 2012, the leading Republican presidential candidates had “embarrassing flirtations with climate realism.” The 2016 crowd, by contrast, ranges from skepticism to blanket denial. “The last 15 years, there has been no recorded warming,” asserted Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. “The Earth’s 4.5 billion years old, and you’re going to say that we had four hurricanes and so that proves a theory?” offered Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

“Climate is always evolving,” Rubio told ABC. Sadly, it’s not the only thing.