George Prescott Bush is about to do something no other Bush has done before: win election in his first campaign for office. The 38-year-old son of Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and potential Republican presidential candidate, leads his opponent in the race to become Texas’ next land commissioner by about 20 points.
This is not so surprising: George P. Bush has the name recognition of being closely related to two living presidents and Texas Republicans are looking particularly strong across the statewide ballot this year. As his campaign has progressed, Bush has also become increasingly wishy-washy when it comes to his position on climate change — a major element of his future responsibilities as an elected official.
The Texas Land Commissioner is a powerful state office and if Bush proves competent, it could make a smooth stepping stone to higher office. The Land Commissioner is head of the General Land Office, which is tasked with “preserving the environment, expanding economic opportunity, and maximizing state revenue through innovative administration and prudent stewardship of state lands and resources.”
Texas has a lot of land — and very little of it is federal. Most of the state’s booming oil and gas leases are made on either private property or state land, which is overseen by the Land Commissioner and includes 13 million acres of property across the state, including offshore area up to 10.35 miles from the coast — a total amount that is nearly the size of West Virginia and twice the size of Maryland.
CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos/ThinkProgress
With energy and environmental issues occupying such a large portion of his potential responsibilities, Bush has been asked multiple times about his stance on climate change and has shifted that position repeatedly. As he dodges the specific question regarding the role of human activity in driving climate change, Bush appears to be evolving along with the “not a scientist” Republican caucus that has become accustomed to eschewing responsibility due to their lack of advanced scientific credentials that only several thousand people have.
Bush’s father, Jeb Bush, used the “I’m not a scientist” line back in 2009, before it was in vogue, during a conversation with Tucker Carlson. When asked by Carlson if he believes global warming is primarily man-made, he responded, “I’m a skeptic. I’m not a scientist … It may be only partially man-made.”
He went on to say that the climate “may not be warming by the way. The last six years we’ve actually had mean temperatures that are cooler.”
Jeb Bush was referring to the much touted idea of a global warming “pause,” which has been shown to be a faux pause numerous times. 2014 is on track to be one of the hottest — if not the hottest — years on record, with August and September both setting global temperature records.
Like Father, Like Son
When asked about climate change during an interview in August, George P. Bush said “the question is whether or not it’s 100 percent anthropogenic … So I’ll leave that to the experts to discuss on that.”
He did cite studies showing in the last few years the state has averaged about four feet of erosion per year, with some counties are experiencing as high as 20 feet of erosion per year and said that responding to hurricanes or large storms in the greater Houston area is “something that honestly keeps me up at night.”
A few weeks later, Bush was forced to clarify this statement after it was interpreted by some as implying that climate change keeps him up at night, when really it’s just storms of increasing frequency and intensity that are driven by climate change that keep him up.
This time, he said he believes there is a “robust debate” among scientists about whether climate change is human-caused.
“What we can agree on is that over the course of human history, there have been changes” but “we need to depoliticize (the question of whether it is human-caused) and allow the scientists to make that decision,” he told the Houston Chronicle.
The implication made by Bush — and other up-and-coming Republican candidates such as Cory Gardner in Colorado — that the risk and cause of climate change is largely debated isn’t true. The latest report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for instance, states that climate change may have “serious, pervasive and irreversible” impacts on human society and nature. And 97 percent of climate scientists agree that recent climate-warming trends are very likely due to human activities.
In an interview over the weekend with ABC News’ Jonathan Karl, Bush continued to waffle on climate change, saying that while the “Texas coastline is impacted by rising sea levels,” that “the question is whether or not that is man-made and I’ll leave that to the scientists.”
So now it’s possible that climate change has had no impact at all on rising sea levels and coastal erosion, whereas in August, the question was whether it was 100 percent human-caused or not.
Regarding the human-caused impacts of climate change, Bush sought the increasingly common Republican escape route by telling Karl that “there’s a wide range that has been discussed, and again I’m not a scientist by any stretch. But everywhere from no impact at all to 100 percent.” Karl did not press Bush to further clarify the sources he relied on to back up such a claim.
For the record, a recent study found that melting polar and glacial ice and thermally expanding ocean water have accelerated sea level rise to the highest rate in at least 6,000 years.
Bush is making a great effort to separate his concern for sea level rise and coastal erosion from any concern for overall climate change. In Mid-October, he released a “Blueprint for a Better Coastal Economy.” It talks about protecting critical coastal infrastructure, fighting for funding and regulatory relief in Washington, and promoting the coastal economy. It fails to mention climate change.
“This plan will ensure that the right decisions are made today so that the Texas coastal economy is preserved for many tomorrows,” Bush said in the release. How many tomorrows, and how much coast, we don’t know.
The Bush campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment by email or phone.