Gov. Perry Inquisitor of Climate Change


Texas Governor Rick Perry has not exactly been equivocal in his stance on global warming. In a stump speech just days after announcing his candidacy for president, he proclaimed:

“I do believe that the issue of global warming has been politicized. I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. I think we’re seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change. Yes, our climates change. They’ve been changing ever since the Earth was formed. But I do not buy into, that a group of scientists, who in some cases were found to be manipulating this data.”

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In his ‘Fact Checker’ column, Washington Post writer Glenn Kessler examined Perry’s claims and awarded them ‘four Pinocchios’ – the highest (or is that lowest?) score he awards to politicians who make factually indefensible statements. Kessler wrote that despite repeated requests, Perry’s spokespeople were unable to provide any kind of documentary evidence to support the claim of scientists manipulating data for monetary gain. That, of course, is because there is none, even though the assertion is frequently and casually tossed around within the denialist camp, despite the fact that the alleged Climategate conspiracy has been proven repeatedly to be nothing of the sort.

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In last night’s Republican debate, Perry doubled down on his views on global warming, stating:

“The science is not settled on this. The idea that we would put Americans’ economy at jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet, to me, is just, is nonsense. … Find out what the science truly is before you start putting the American economy in jeopardy.”

Leaving aside the question of whether addressing climate change – in the form of, for example, developing alternative energy and increasing efficiency in the grid – really would harm the economy (a particularly spurious claim in a year in which the United States alone has suffered ten billion-dollar extreme weather events), it’s hard to imagine what it might take to convince the governor of the validity of the science. As one fact-checker of the debate pointed out:

The scientific consensus on climate change is about as settled as any major scientific issue can be. Perry’s opinion runs counter to the view of an overwhelming majority of scientists that pollution released from the burning of fossil fuels is heating up the planet. The National Academy of Sciences, in an investigation requested by Congress, concluded last year: “Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by human activities, and poses significant risks to humans and the environment.”

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Perry deployed a particularly odd historical analogy to defend himself against the fact that close to 100 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is occurring and that human activities are responsible. “Galileo was outnumbered for a spell!” he declared of the Italian astronomer whose heretical scientific views led to him being tried by the Inquisition. But, as veteran political observer Howard Fineman pointed out in a running blog during the debate, “He got the analogy exactly wrong. Galileo was the scientist; the church and its allies, who knew nothing about the scientific method, were lined up against him.”

IMAGE: Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry gets touched up during a break in the Ronald Reagan Centennial GOP Presidential Primary Debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Sept. 7, 2011, in Simi Valley, Calif. The debate is sponsored by POLITICO and NBC News. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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