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Republican Leadership on Climate Change?

In these days, when Republican presidential candidates are proud to deny the reality of anthropogenic climate change, and the Republican chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee is leading denier in all of Washington, it might be hard to remember the time a leading Republican spoke these words:

The issue of climate change respects no border. Its effects cannot be reined in by an army nor advanced by any ideology. Climate change, with its potential to impact every corner of the world, is an issue that must be addressed by the world.

It wasn't long ago when a Republican leader was willing to listen to input from climate scientists...

My Cabinet-level working group has met regularly for the last 10 weeks to review the most recent, most accurate, and most comprehensive science. They have heard from scientists offering a wide spectrum of views. They have reviewed the facts, and they have listened to many theories and suppositions. The working group asked the highly-respected National Academy of Sciences to provide us the most up-to-date information about what is known and about what is not known on the science of climate change.

...when a Republican leader was not afraid to acknowledge the latest science...

First, we know the surface temperature of the earth is warming. It has risen by .6 degrees Celsius over the past 100 years. There was a warming trend from the 1890s to the 1940s. Cooling from the 1940s to the 1970s. And then sharply rising temperatures from the 1970s to today.

There is a natural greenhouse effect that contributes to warming. Greenhouse gases trap heat, and thus warm the earth because they prevent a significant proportion of infrared radiation from escaping into space. Concentration of greenhouse gases, especially CO2, have increased substantially since the beginning of the industrial revolution. And the National Academy of Sciences indicate that the increase is due in large part to human activity.

...to acknowledge the unintended consequences of our actions...

For example, our useful efforts to reduce sulfur emissions may have actually increased warming, because sulfate particles reflect sunlight, bouncing it back into space.

...to acknowledge the limited options for solving the problem...

There are only two ways to stabilize concentration of greenhouse gases. One is to avoid emitting them in the first place; the other is to try to capture them after they're created.

..and to acknowledge the United States' leading role in causing the problem.

Our country, the United States is the world's largest emitter of manmade greenhouse gases. We account for almost 20 percent of the world's man-made greenhouse emissions.

At the beginning of his first term in office, President George W. Bush could say, with all seriousness:

This is a challenge that requires a 100 percent effort; ours, and the rest of the world's.

Of course, he said all these things in the context of explaining why the United States would not be supporting the Kyoto Protocol. Bush argued that any solution would need to balance the environment and the economy, and that the burden placed on the U. S. economy by the Kyoto Protocol was too great compared to the possible environmental benefits.

Bush was rightly criticized by environmentalist groups for ignoring the implications of the science. For today's Republican candidates, to even acknowledge the work done by climate scientists would require more courage than any of them have yet shown.

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