Today, during a convention in New Hampshire hosted by the bipartisan group No Labels, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) took a moment to differentiate himself from the rest of the GOP field by talking about climate change.
As one of the only Republican presidential candidates to repeatedly bring up climate change in the press and during campaign stops, Graham began by asking the audience if anyone there believed climate change was real. Nearly half of the attendees raised their hands and applauded.
“I do, too,” Graham said. “So here’s the trade-off. For those of you who believe climate change is real, you’re gonna have to deal with a guy like me who will push a lower carbon economy over time and in a business friendly way. The great trade-off is energy producers and environmentalists in a room trying to find, over a 50 year period, a way to go to a lower-carbon economy while in the meantime responsibly exploring for fossil fuels that we own and trying to create alternative energy in every sector of the economy.”
Graham’s assertion that climate change must be solved in a business-friendly way — a position that includes support for continued fossil fuel extraction — elicited a call of “Keep it in the ground!” from one audience member. An analysis of global fossil fuel reserves published last January in Nature found that, in order to avoid catastrophic climate change, the vast majority of existing fossil fuel reserves will need to remain in the ground.
Graham continued by contrasting Democrats who view climate change as a “religion” with Republicans that refuse to accept the mainstream consensus on climate science.
“It is, to me folks, a problem that needs to be solved, not a religion,” Graham said of climate change. “So to my friends on the left who are making this a religion, you’re making a mistake. To my friends on the right who deny the science, tell me why.”
Trotting out a popular climate denier talking point, Graham told the audience that he is “not a scientist,” joking that he received a “D” in science in school only because the teacher didn’t give “F’s.” But, he continued, he has seen first-hand the way that climate change is altering the landscape and lifestyle of places around the world, from Alaska to Antarctica.
“I’ve been to the Antarctic,” Graham told the audience. “I’ve been to Greenland. I’ve been to Alaska and I’ve heard from people who live in these regions how the climate is changing. And when 90 percent of climatologists tell you that it’s real, who am I to tell them they don’t know what they’re talking about?”
Technically, Graham’s comment is incorrect — 97 percent of climate scientists, not 90 percent, believe that climate change is real and that human activity is the primary cause. But Graham’s acceptance of mainstream climate science could work in his favor with voters — according to a recent poll, 90 percent of Americans — across political parties — believe that candidates running for Congress or president should have an understanding of the science that informs public policy.
Graham concluded the climate section of his speech by outlining how he would combat climate change while helping business. The trade-off, Graham said, would include more nuclear power and oil and gas exploration combined with a push toward low-carbon technologies.