Friday, May 20, 2011

Climate change, Governor Christie and the 'birthers'

New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie take note: USA TODAY thinks climate deniers and 'birthers' have a lot in common.

In an editorial today, the national newspaper opined:

"One way to deal with a problem is to pretend it doesn't exist. This approach has the virtue of relieving you from having to come up with a solution, spend money or make tough choices. The downside, of course, is that leaky faucets and other problems rarely solve themselves and, in fact, usually get worse if ignored.

Such is the case with climate change, a threat that too many members of Congress, most of them Republicans, have decided to manage by denying the science. That head-in-the-sand approach avoids messy discussions of higher energy prices, but it just got harder to justify.

Late last week, the nation's pre-eminent scientific advisory group, the National Research Council arm of the National Academy of Sciences, issued a report called "America's Climate Choices." As scientific reports go, its key findings were straightforward and unequivocal: "Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by human activities, and poses significant risks to humans and the environment." Among those risks in the USA: more intense and frequent heat waves, threats to coastal communities from rising sea levels, and greater drying of the arid Southwest.

Coincidentally, USA TODAY's Dan Vergano reported Monday, a statistics journal retracted a federally funded study that had become a touchstone among climate-change deniers. The retraction followed complaints of plagiarism and use of unreliable sources, such as Wikipedia.

Taken together, these developments ought to leave the deniers in the same position as the "birthers," who continue to challenge President Obama's American citizenship — a vocal minority that refuses to accept overwhelming evidence."  (Read the full editorial here)

What's this got to do with New Jersey's governor?  

Questioned about global warming at a news conference a few months ago, Christie said he was skeptical about the science upon which climate-change arguments for CO2 controls are based. 

That set off chorus of boos from the state's environmental community. Several green groups quickly formed a climate-change teach-in, featuring scientists from Rutgers, the state university, and invited the governor to come on down and get himself educated on the subject.

Christie, who is being courted by a number of national Republican organizations as a potential 2012 presidential candidate, declined, spurring speculation that he was polishing his conservative credentials for national office. [His more recent refusal to disavow the teaching of creationism in schools or to restore state funding to Planned Parenthood (he blames the budget shortfall) have only strengthened his appeal to the religious right--a powerful force in national Republican primaries].

But Christie is a smart tactician, not a political ideologue. When Glenn Beck came courting months ago, Christie found his schedule too full to meet. And he's well aware that he serves as chief executive of a blue state where voters consistently vote for farmland preservation and open space, support strong environmental protection, and oppose offshore drilling.

During his gubernatorial campaign against sitting Democratic Governor Jon Corzine, Christie managed to win the backing of the influential New Jersey Environmental Federation. The Sierra Club, which actively opposed Christie as a candidate and continues to oppose him as governor in almost daily news releases, was scornful of the NJEF's endorsement and gleeful when the governor expressed skepticism about climate-change science.

Last week Christie attended a NJEF gathering where he touted his environmental accomplishments (signing the nation's toughest fertilizer control law, supporting protections for Barnegat Bay and offshore wind energy, and opposing offshore gas drilling and the siting of an offshore LNG terminal). He also announced he's agreed to discuss climate change with scientists that the NJEF will select. [Take that, Sierra Club] 

In doing so, Christie demonstrates openness and flexibility.  He doesn't have to come down on either side of the climate debate. As long as he's listening, he keeps his Jersey creds alive with NJEF while maintaining his national, conservative appeal.

This guy's no birther. But he is one sharp cookie.

What do you think?  Use the comment box below.  If one isn't visible, click on the tiny 'comments' line.

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