In the third debate between the two main candidates vying for Montana’s sole congressional seat on Saturday night, Republican Ryan Zinke responded to the question regarding the cause of global warming by claiming the role of humans remains undetermined.
When asked whether he believes climate change is caused by human activity, “Zinke cited a recent Wall Street Journal article by a former Obama administration official that concluded climate is changing as it always has, humans are an influence but what the human influence is has not been settled,” the Billings Gazette reported.
“It’s not a hoax, but it’s not proven science either,” Zinke said. “But you don’t dismantle America’s power and energy on a maybe. We need to be energy independent first. We need to do it better, which we can, but it is not a settled science.”
According to his opponent, Democrat John Lewis, Zinke has changed his position over the years on climate change, citing the fact that Zinke signed a 2010 letter from 1,210 state legislators across the country calling on President Obama and Congress to pass climate change and clean energy jobs legislation.
“Look, I want to see consistency on this issue and above all, we need people in Congress that, regardless of how you feel about it, are solution-oriented, want to be part of the solution, because debate is not going away,” Lewis said during Saturday’s debate. “When you put your head in the sand and say it’s not true, that’s not helpful.”
In June, Zinke “said he is a geologist and that he has seen no scientific evidence that fracking is environmentally dangerous or that climate change is changing the weather,” the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported. And the Republican nominee continued to cast doubt on humanity’s role in driving climate change in August, telling the Associated Press that “the evidence strongly suggests that humans have had an influence on higher CO2. However, the evidence is equally as strong that there are other factors, such as rising ocean temperatures, that have a greater influence.”
This, of course, directly contradicts the vast majority of climate scientists, nearly all of whom agree that human activity is the primary factor driving global climate change. “We can say quite confidently that 90 to 95 percent of this carbon trend is human induced,” Steve Running, a University of Montana professor and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said in response to Zinke’s claim. “A tiny fraction is natural variability.”
Climate change is already taking a toll on Montana and, as the recently-released National Climate Assessment laid out, those impacts will only become more severe in the years to come. The report predicted a dramatic increase in extreme heat for the Great Plains region, which includes Montana — by mid-century, days over 100ºF could more than double in the northern states and almost quadruple in the southern ones. And as with other regions, climate change will both extend dry spells and strengthen extreme precipitation events, leading to increased water scarcity.
While both Montana congressional candidates support the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would ship Canadian tar sands crude oil into the U.S., and both boast an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy, the two energy plans and stances on climate change show some significant differences. Zinke, a staunch fossil fuel advocate, calls for an expansion of West Coast coal export terminals, putting a stop to proposed EPA regulations aimed at cutting carbon pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants, and extracting more natural gas.
Lewis, on the other hand, emphasized the promise of alternative sources of energy, such as wind, solar and hydro power, along with plant-based fuels. As for climate change, Lewis told the AP that the evidence can be seen in drought and wildfires in Montana.