OP-ED: Jeb, we have some folks to talk to about climate change


It makes me nervous when someone who might become president of the United States says the science on climate change is "convoluted" and that it is "arrogant" to assert that humans are the primary cause of global warming.

That's what happened recently when Jeb Bush, the still-undeclared presidential candidate, said the following at a campaign-style event in New Hampshire:

"Look, first of all, the climate is changing. I don't think the science is clear what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural. It's convoluted. And for the people to say the science is decided on, this just really arrogant, to be honest with you. It's this intellectual arrogance that now you can't even have a conversation about it. The climate is changing, and we need to adapt to that reality."

I found his statement both reassuring and unsettling. It was comforting to see that Mr. Bush acknowledges the climate is changing. Reading between the lines on whether humans are to blame, however, the implication is that there's little or nothing we can or should do to mitigate the damage.

While it's true "we need to adapt to that reality," our ability to adapt will depend greatly on limiting the warming already under way. If we do nothing to curtail the heat-trapping gases we emit into the atmosphere, experts say we're looking at an average global temperature increasing by as much as 11 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. We cannot adapt to that.

Hence, my nervousness.

Mr. Bush isn't alone when it comes to not understanding that 97 percent of climate scientists are convinced, based upon the evidence, that human-caused global warming is happening. Opinion estimates from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication show that only 41 percent of Americans believe most scientists think global warming is happening. The Yale estimates show that 34 percent think there is a lot of disagreement among scientists and 25 percent simply don't know.

Why the gap between what scientists know and what the public thinks they know? Much of it stems from the he said/she said approach in the media that appears to give equal weight to the views of skeptics who do little or no actual research on the topic. These skeptics, many of whom write for think tanks that receive funding from fossil fuel sources, have succeeded in creating the illusion that a debate exists on the science of climate change. It's a similar strategy employed by the tobacco industry years ago to question the addictive and cancer-causing properties of cigarettes. Go see the documentary "Merchants of Doubt" if you want to know more.

The bottom line is that I think Mr. Bush is getting bad information. That's why I want to make the following offer: Citizens' Climate Lobby will arrange, at our expense, to give him a private briefing with climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, who was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People.

Trust me, there is not an intellectually arrogant bone in her body, as anyone she has ever spoken with will attest. She's also an evangelical Christian — pretty uncommon in the scientific community — who sees that faith and science are not incompatible. Any conversation with her is both enlightening and delightful.

Once we settle on the need to reduce carbon, I have someone else Mr. Bush should talk to: Former Secretary of State George Shultz.

Secretary Shultz proposes that we solve climate change "the Reagan way," with a market-based approach that applies a rising fee on carbon, returning the revenue from that fee to all households. Government doesn't keep (and spend) the money, and consumers are shielded from any economic fallout from pricing carbon. In fact, a study from Regional Economic Models, Inc., finds that this proposal will reduce carbon emissions 50 percent in 20 years while adding 2.8 million jobs to the economy.

I suspect what's driving the "debate" about climate science is the fact that conservatives don't like the solutions, such as more EPA regulations. If you don't like the solutions, don't admit that there's a problem to be solved.

Fortunately for Mr. Bush, we have a solution conservatives should find easy to embrace. He just needs to talk to the right people.

— Mark Reynolds is executive director of Citizens Climate Lobby. Dr. Katharine Hayhoe will be the keynote speaker at the CCL International Conference in Washington, D.C., on June 22.