The person who runs the American Legislative Exchange Council, a free-market lobbying group that opposes policies to fight climate change, is not sure whether humans actually cause climate change, according to an interview with the National Journal published Wednesday.
When asked specifically whether or not she thinks human carbon emissions are causing climate change, ALEC CEO Lisa Nelson told National Journal’s Dustin Volz, “I don’t know the science on that.” ALEC has recently come under fire for its positions on global warming, following a statement from Google Chairman Eric Schmidt that ALEC has been “literally lying” about climate change and by extension “making the world a much worse place.”
Since then, ALEC has issued statements maintaining that the group does not deny the science of human-caused climate change. However, model legislation put forth by the group has cast doubt on whether global warming is harmful, a direct refutation of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s statements that climate change increases the risk of “severe,” “pervasive,” and “dangerous” events. And in a presentation billed to be about climate science in July, ALEC members heard claims that there is “no need” to reduce carbon emissions; there is “no scientific consensus” on climate change; and that carbon dioxide increases have not caused sea level rise or polar ice melt.
ALEC also works to kill statewide programs that promote the use of renewable energy, and is pushing a bill that would require public schools to teach climate denial.
The fact that ALEC’s chief executive claims not to know the science of climate change while pushing these policies is drawing outrage from environmental groups who say Nelson should know better, given the breadth of scientific information available about climate change. Michael Brune, executive director of Sierra Club, said in a statement to ThinkProgress that Nelson’s statements were “disingenuous,” an excuse to continue pushing policies scientists know to be harmful.
“ALEC is claiming they don’t know the science on climate change while pushing legislation to teach climate denial in schools,” Brune said. “That’s like saying they don’t know whether smoking causes cancer while peddling cigarettes to kids.”
Aliya Haq, the special projects director at the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate program, said Nelson’s assertion that she doesn’t know the science not only represents “willful ignorance,” but shows that ALEC knows it can not directly deny climate science and remain a credible organization. This, she said, is well-represented by the recent exodus of multiple large tech companies from ALEC, many citing a desire not to be affiliated with an anti-climate group.
“Nelson is panicking. She’s realizing that ALEC’s long-known climate denial is now a liability,” Haq said. “It’s a duplicitous organization that must operate in the shadows, and when Schmidt from Google shined a light on their climate change stance, ALEC panicked, and now this is all they can do.”
An ALEC spokesperson did not respond to ThinkProgress’ request for comment asking to confirm to accuracy of Nelson’s statements on her knowledge of climate science, or to respond to environmental groups’ criticisms of the claim.
Haq said a clear example of ALEC panicking is the group’s recent attempt to align its stance on net metering, a policy that essentially allows people with solar panels to potentially pay less for generating their own electricity. When responding to Google’s accusation that ALEC is anti-environment, the group issued a position statement claiming it has a similar position on net metering to NRDC.
“That is frankly offensive to NRDC,” Haq said. “NRDC is working day and night to protect the climate; ALEC is doing the opposite.”
Nelson’s assertion that she does not know the science on climate change is a familiar one. Over the last few months, it’s become increasingly popular for conservatives to use the excuse of either not “knowing the science” or not “being a scientist” to claim ignorance on the issue, while also declaring that Americans shouldn’t do anything about it. It’s a line most famously used by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, but has also been used by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY), and mostly recently, the Iowa’s Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Joni Ernst.
Climate scientists do not like the tactic, as evidenced by their interviews with ThinkProgress about the phenomenon in May. “Personally, I don’t think it proper for any American to use that argument,” Donald. J Wuebbles, a distinguished professor of atmospheric sciences and coordinating lead author for the IPCC’s 2013 assessment report said at the time, noting the numerous reports he’s written specifically so that people can understand climate change.