‘I’m Not A Scientist’: A Complete Guide To Politicians Who Plead Ignorance On Climate Change

From left to right: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Florida Governor Rick Scott, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, U.S. Senate Candidate Joni Ernst, and House Speaker John Boehner. CREDIT: AP PHOTOS

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Thursday joined the growing ranks of politicians and political figures who actively oppose any policy to fight climate change, but also claim to not know the science of climate change. McConnell, for his part, used one of most recently popular adages to make this claim in an interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer: “I’m not a scientist.”

“We can debate this forever,” McConnell reportedly said in response to the Enquirer’s inquiries on whether he agrees with the 97 percent of climate scientists who say human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are causing global warming. “I’m not a scientist. I’m interested in protecting Kentucky’s economy.”

Climate scientists themselves have derided the tactic of of claiming ignorance on whether climate change exists, particularly from politicians, who are frequently presented with information curated by scientists to explain what’s going on with the climate. The National Climate Assessment, for example, was written by scientists and other experts specifically so that members of Congress could understand climate change and how it affects the country.

“Personally, I don’t think it proper for any American to use that argument [that they’re not scientist],” Donald. J Wuebbles, a coordinating lead author for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2013 assessment report, said at the time.

Still, that hasn’t stopped many of our country’s most prominent politicians from saying they’re not sure whether humans are the primary drivers of climate change — whether that’s because of the fact that they’re “not a scientist” or otherwise. Here is a list of politicians and political figures who have made the claim so far.

John Boehner: “I’m Not Qualified”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) CREDIT: AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File

At one point in time, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) was an outward climate denier. But now he won’t even answer whether he accepts the science of climate change or not.

“Listen, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change,” Boehner said when asked whether he thinks climate change is a problem. “But I am astute enough to understand that every proposal that has come out of this administration to deal with climate change involves hurting our economy and killing American jobs.”

The statement differs from the one he made in 2009, when Boehner told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that calling carbon dioxide a pollutant was “almost comical.” “Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide,” he said at the time. “Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you’ve got more carbon dioxide.”

Boehner has voted against every bill regarding climate change prevention and mitigation since he has taken office, according to the League of Conservation Voters.

Lisa Nelson: “I Don’t Know”

Lisa Nelson is not a politician per se, but she is the CEO of ALEC, a free-market lobbying group that opposes policies to fight climate change and has a good deal influence on state policy-making. In an interview with the National Journal published Wednesday, Nelson said she’s not sure if humans are causing climate change.

“I don’t know the science on that,” Nelson said when asked by National Journal’s Dustin Volz specifically whether or not she thinks human carbon emissions drive climate change.

The next day, Nelson — the head of an organization that works to kill statewide renewable energy programs and pushes laws to require climate denial teaching in public school — told NPR’s Diane Rehm that ALEC does not talk about climate change. “We as an organization, specifically do not comment on climate change,” she said.

Rick Scott: “I’m Not A Scientist”

Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) CREDIT: Office of Rick Scott / Meredyth Hope Hall

When a reporter from the The Miami Herald asked Rick Scott, the Republican governor of Florida, whether he thinks man-made climate change “is significantly affecting the weather,” Scott respond with a familiar missive.

“Well, I’m not a scientist,” he said, then reportedly trying to change the subject.

Since then, Scott actually met with some climate scientists who offered to explain the issue to him in the wake of his comments. It did not seem to be very effective. His plan for how he will deal with environmental issues in Florida if re-elected governor does not include anything about climate change.

Marco Rubio: “I’m Not A Scientist”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is now a outright, unapologetic denier of human-caused climate change. But when he first ran for Senate in late 2009, he decided ignorance on the issue was the best policy.

“I’m not a scientist. I’m not qualified to make that decision,” he said at the time when asked if he thinks human activity causes global warming. “There’s a significant scientific dispute about that.’

Rubio has voted “no” on all but one bill to fight climate change since he has taken office, according to the League of Conservation Voters.

Joni Ernst: “I Don’t Know”

Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst. CREDIT: AP Photo / Justin Hayworth

As ClimateProgress’ Jeff Spross pointed out on Wednesday, Joni Ernst — the Republicans’ U.S. Senate candidate from Iowa — also joined the ranks of politicians who say they don’t know the science of climate change, while remaining happy declaring we need do nothing about it.

“I don’t know the science behind climate change,” she said at a candidate debate at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. “I can’t say one way or another what is the direct impact, whether it’s man-made or not.”

If elected, Ernst has promised “to abolish” the Environmental Protection Agency. She also opposes the Clean Water Act.

Bobby Jindal: “I’d Leave It To The Scientists”

Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana, was a biology major in college. He was named to the 1992 USA Today All-USA Academic Team and got a Masters degree from Oxford.

But as ClimateProgress’ Joe Romm notes, he still “pleads total ignorance” when it comes to how much human activity contributes to global warming and how serious it is. “I’d leave it to the scientists to decide how much, what it means, and what the consequences are,” he said. “Let the scientists debate and figure that out.”

Of course, the scientists have already figured it out. According to the National Climate Assessment, Lousiana has already lost 1,880 square miles of land in the last 80 years, and is on track to continue losing a football field of land every hour if carbon emissions continue at their current pace. Jindal, meanwhile, opposes efforts to curb greenhouse gas pollution.

Michael Grimm: “I’m Not A Scientist”

This one is a bit of a throwaway, because after Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) actually looked at climate research, he admitted that he thinks carbon emissions are causing the planet to warm and sea levels to rise. But back in 2010, the Congressman said he was “skeptical” of the idea.

“We see nothing but conflicting reports from across the globe,” he said. “I’m not sure, I’m not a scientist.”

For his part, Grimm has still voted “no” on almost every piece of legislation climate change legislation since he has taken office, according to the League of Conservation Voters.

***Did we miss someone? Let us know in the comments!