There was once a time when Rand Paul seemed like a moderate on climate change.
A few months before he declared his candidacy for president, the Republican senator from Kentucky voted for an amendment stating that climate change is real and that humans contribute to it. He was one of only 15 Republicans to do so. Paul also told Bill Maher last year that he’s not necessarily against regulating carbon dioxide, the main driver of human-caused global warming.
But all that moderation went down the tubes on Tuesday night during the fourth Republican presidential debate. Asked about President Obama’s regulatory plan to fight climate change, Paul said he would immediately repeal it — and then questioned the reality of the problem altogether.
“While I do think man may have a role in our climate, I think nature also has a role,” Paul said. “The planet’s 4.5 billion years old. We’ve been through geologic age after geologic age. We’ve had times when the temperature’s been warmer, we’ve had times when the temperature’s been colder. We’ve had times when the carbon in the atmosphere’s been higher.”
Here’s a video of Paul’s remarks, via The New Republic:
The vast majority of climate scientists would likely bristle at Paul’s explanation of how climate change works — particularly his quip about the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
Right now, the average concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere is wavering at about 400 parts per million. While Paul is correct that earth’s atmosphere has had carbon concentrations this high before, it’s been millions of years since similar averages have been recorded. Homo sapiens literally did not exist the last time earth’s atmosphere had this much carbon dioxide in it. Climate scientists are very, very worried about this.
Paul’s comments also fall back on a very common trope among people who deny the reality of human-caused climate change — that the climate is “always changing.” But this argument is, at its worst, intellectually dishonest. No scientist disputes that the climate has gone through natural cycles. But that’s not the issue — the issue is whether excessive greenhouse gases force the climate to change faster and differently than it would without them.
And while Paul says he thinks man “may” have a role in climate change, the vast majority of the climate science community goes further than that. When it comes to the idea that humans are the main cause of climate change, several peer-reviewed surveys involving thousands of climate researchers have all found that the level of consensus is approximately 97 percent.