Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush should be getting an education in climate change soon.
The two GOP candidates agreed last week to meet with a group of 15 South Florida mayors concerned about climate change’s impact on their state and on the country as a whole. The mayors had sent letters to Rubio and Bush in late January, urging the candidates to “acknowledge the reality and urgency of climate change” and asking them to take meetings with them to discuss climate change. One of the mayors — Cindy Lerner of Pinecrest, Florida — journeyed to New Hampshire last week, and questioned both candidates about the letters during town hall events.
“I know that they know the science we are relying on,” Lerner told ThinkProgress of the two candidates, both of whom have political histories in Florida. Bush served as governor of the state from 1999 to 2007, and Rubio is a U.S. senator from Florida. Florida’s university system is heavily involved in climate science, so these two candidates should have a good understanding of the issue, Lerner said.
“To have especially Marco, who is in such denial, ignore the very academic institutions that he has supported, funded, and worked with for more than a decade is really ridiculous, quite frankly,” she said.
So, Lerner and the other 14 mayors from South Florida decided to call the two GOP candidates on their refusal to take climate change seriously — first, with the letters, and then with Lerner questioning them in-person.
When Lerner asked Rubio in New Hampshire whether he’d meet with the mayors, the candidate responded “sure.”
“But I can tell you right now I’m not going to destroy our economy,” he continued. “The climate’s never been the same — it’s always changed.” Rubio has made that argument multiple times before, and has also said that he doesn’t “believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.”
Of course, tackling climate change won’t destroy the economy — it will actually, as Climate Progress’ Joe Romm has argued, be super-cheap.
Bush’s response to Lerner’s questioning was more open to the science behind climate change.
“Look, the climate’s changing,” he said. “We have billions of people who live on the planet; we clearly have an impact on it. To deny it doesn’t make sense.” He also noted that the moose population in New Hampshire is declining due to climate change, and acknowledged that Florida was at risk from rising sea levels.
Bush continued, however, with framing similar to Rubio’s — that action on climate change cannot destroy the economy. He also repeated calls to cut subsidies across the energy spectrum — on oil and gas, but also on solar, wind, and other renewables, in an effort to create a tax policy that “doesn’t create winners and losers.”
Lerner said it was “refreshing” to hear Bush acknowledge climate change was happening and had an impact on communities. She also said she wasn’t surprised that both candidates agreed to meet with the mayors.
“It would be hard in a very public setting for them to say, ‘No, I’m too busy, we won’t meet,” she said. “The real challenge now is to make it happen.”
The mayors’ expectation, she said, is that they will get a meeting time with both candidates before Florida’s primary on March 15. Climate change and the sea level rise that accompanies it is a high priority for local officials and constituents in southeast Florida, Lerner said, so voters need to know how the two candidates plan to address it if they become president. South Florida’s proximity to the coast and its porous ground make it particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, and already some cities are experiencing high-tide flooding that fills streets with water.
Lerner said she and the group of mayors don’t plan to stop at Bush and Rubio. The candidates are polling fifth and third, respectively, in the GOP race, so both may end up losing the nomination.
“We’re going to want to continue to have dialogue with those who look more likely to end up the nominee, or whoever is the nominee, to make sure [climate change] is a part of their platform and that they understand the need for leadership at the presidential level,” she said.