Climate

Voter Asks Ben Carson: If You’re So Smart, Why Don’t You Accept Climate Change?

CREDIT: AP Photo/Chris Carlson

Republican presidential candidate, Ben Carson speaks during a campaign event at the University of Iowa, Friday, Jan. 29, 2016 in Iowa City, Iowa.

IOWA CITY, IOWA — Ben Carson is not a fan of the uneducated.

At his town hall meeting in Iowa City on Friday, the Republican presidential candidate insulted people with low IQs and lamented that they were allowed to vote. He said it was “disturbing” that many people are unable to pass the written test to get into the military. He urged the audience to “read up” on the history of Islam, and said progressives are “dumbing down our society” with calls for political correctness.

All of this intrigued Daniel Schnall, 29, a graduate student at the University of Iowa and registered independent. Schnall asked Carson: If you’re so passionate about being educated, then why don’t you accept the science of human-caused climate change?

“You’ve spoken a lot about using common sense and using your brain, and I really appreciate that,” Schnall said. “And in some of the questions in the debates, you responded that you really seek the input of experts.”

He continued: “The experts in the scientific community overwhelmingly agree that climate change is a problem. Can you explain that discrepancy, and why you’re not willing to listen to the experts?”

For the entirety of his presidential campaign, Carson has been unwilling to say he accepts the mainstream scientific opinion that carbon emissions from human activity cause climate change, and that climate change will have catastrophic effects if left unchecked. “There’s always going to be either cooling or warming going on,” Carson has said, implying that humans have nothing to do with how hot the Earth is becoming.

On Friday, he responded to Schnall’s question by saying that the climate science is “politicized.”

“I don’t subscribe to the politicization of the environment, because that’s what leads to things like the Clean Power Plan,” Carson said, referring to Obama’s regulations to limit carbon emissions from coal power plants. “The EPA has said that if we implement every aspect of the Clean Power Plan, it will lower the temperature of the Earth by 0.05 degrees Fahrenheit… that’s the benefit. The cost is billions of dollars and millions of jobs. That doesn’t make any sense, because that is ideologically driven.”

There’s a lot to unpack about Carson’s comments on the Clean Power Plan. For one, he said that regulations would be useless because they would only make a small dent in global temperatures. But that’s scientifically misleading — no one regulation in any one country can be significant enough to make a big dent in global temperatures. However, considering the United States is currently the world’s second-largest carbon emitter and by far its largest historically, the idea is that the U.S. must act first to motivate other countries to do the same.

And his claim that putting carbon regulations on the already-dying coal industry would cost “billions of dollars and millions of jobs” is also dubious — according to multiple studies, the regulations would actually create jobs in renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors, since both will have to be increased to meet the regulations’ requirements.

But the most notable portion of Carson’s response was what he didn’t say — and that’s anything about the actual science of human-caused climate change. Carson said the EPA had become politicized and that the Clean Power Plan wouldn’t work, but he didn’t say anything surrounding the actual question, which was why, scientifically, he doesn’t accept that climate change is a problem.

Schnall recognized this, telling ThinkProgress that he was “not really” happy with the candidate’s answer. Schnall said that while he’s “not the biggest climate change advocate,” he asked the question because he was frustrated with the polarization of climate change in politics. And for Carson in particular, he just didn’t understand how someone could preach the importance of education while denying mainstream science.

“If he’s going to stand up there and say we need to listen to the experts, and we need to use our brains — 97 percent of the scientific community agrees on this one,” he said. “It’s not just politicizing the issue. It’s a little more than that.”