Sometimes you have to read something to believe it. Vice President Mike Pence’s pretzel-twisting when asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper whether climate change is a threat to the United States is one of those times.
Here’s the back and forth — from “State of the Union” on Sunday. It’s long but incredibly telling:
TAPPER: But I want to ask you a question about climate change.
The director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, said in a January report on worldwide threats that the climate emergency is — quote — “likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress and social discontent.”
It is a priority for the DNI, Coats.
The EPA this week, however, rolled back part of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, letting states set their own limit for coal power plants emissions.
Do you believe think human-induced climate emergency is a threat to the United States?
PENCE: Well, what — what I will tell you is that we will always follow the science on that in this administration.
TAPPER: The science says it is.
PENCE: But what — but what we — but what we won’t do — and the Clean Power Plan was all about that — was hamstringing energy in this country, raising the cost of utility rates for working families across this country…
TAPPER: But is it a threat?
PENCE: … while other nations like China and India absolutely do nothing or make illusory promises decades down the road to deal with it.
You know, the truth of the matter is, with the advent of natural gas, with the natural gas explosion that is developing…
PENCE: … with clean coal technology, we’re seeing — we’re seeing a significant reduction in carbon emissions all across this country.
TAPPER: But is what people are calling a climate emergency, is it a threat? Do you think it is a threat, man-made climate emergency is a threat?
PENCE: I think the answer to is going to be based upon the science.
TAPPER: Well, the science says yes.
TAPPER: I’m asking you what you think.
PENCE: There is many in the science that…
TAPPER: The science community in your own administration, at NOAA…
PENCE: I got it.
TAPPER: … at the DNI, they all say it is a threat.
PENCE: I got it. Look, what the President…
TAPPER: But you won’t, for some reason.
PENCE: … has said, what we have said is that we’re not going to raise utility rates.
Remember what President Obama said?
TAPPER: But it is not a threat?
PENCE: He said — he said — he had his climate change plan. He said it is necessarily going to cause utility rates to skyrocket, and that would force us into these green technologies.
Now you have got Democrats all running for president that are running on a Green New Deal that would break this economy.
TAPPER: OK. So you don’t think it is a threat, is all I’m saying? You don’t think it is a threat?
PENCE: I think we’re making great progress reducing carbon emissions, America has the cleanest air and water in the world. We will continue to use market forces…
TAPPER: That is not true. We don’t have the cleanest air and water in the world.
Let’s start here: There is no real debate in the scientific community as to whether or not a) the climate is warming and b) this warming is well outside of past ups and downs in terms of temperature.
This, from NASA, lays it all out in very clear terms:
“The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere. Most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years, with the five warmest years on record taking place since 2010. Not only was 2016 the warmest year on record, but eight of the 12 months that make up the year — from January through September, with the exception of June — were the warmest on record for those respective months.”
There’s also very little debate about the broad — and potentially catastrophic — impacts from this warming. This, from the 4th National Climate Assessment, gets at that point:
“In the absence of significant global mitigation action and regional adaptation efforts, rising temperatures, sea level rise, and changes in extreme events are expected to increasingly disrupt and damage critical infrastructure and property, labor productivity, and the vitality of our communities.”
And, even within President Donald Trump’s own administration — as Tapper notes — there’s a belief that the effects of climate change are real and dangerous. In addition to comments made by Coats, the Pentagon released a 22-page report earlier this year in which it concluded that: “The effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to DOD missions, operational plans and installations.”
All of these f-a-c-t-s make what Pence is arguing all the more ludicrous. If he is saying that “we will always follow the science,” then the conclusion is clear: The science says that we are in a close-to-crisis moment when it comes to climate change — and that if we don’t begin to act, we may find ourselves in a situation where the consequences are irreversible.
But, Pence isn’t really saying that the administration understands what the science says and will follow it. Instead, he’s simply hiding behind a bunch of equivocations — the ridiculousness of which are laid bare by Tapper’s repeated fact-based pushback and the VP’s anemic “responses.”
Why? Simple. Trump has long been a prominent climate change skeptic — asking why, if global warming is real, then it is still cold out. I’m not kidding — here’s a tweet from Trump from January 2019: “Be careful and try staying in your house. Large parts of the Country are suffering from tremendous amounts of snow and near record setting cold. Amazing how big this system is. Wouldn’t be bad to have a little of that good old fashioned Global Warming right now!”
Pence knows that his path forward — in this administration or as a presidential candidate in his own right — is directly tied to Trump. Pleasing Trump. Ensuring that Trump knows he is a good soldier. And, if Pence said that climate change was a threat to the country, Trump would have seen it (or heard about it) and not been happy about it.
So, Pence did what he did. And he’d do it again.