Paul Ryan’s Alarming, Mistaken Beliefs About Climate Science

The state of the universe.
Aug. 29 2012 10:53 AM

Paul Ryan Is a Climate Change Denialist

Since entering Congress, he has been striving to perfect his anti-environmental record.

US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's running mate Paul Ryan.
Most of what Paul Ryan has written about climate change is a corollary to his basic tenet of faith that everything done by the government is necessarily bad, and everything done by the private sector is necessarily good

Photograph by Jewel Samad/AFP/GettyImages.

When it comes to climate change policy, as in so many other things, the Mitt Romney who was governor of Massachusetts is a man I could almost imagine voting for in a presidential election.  One of the little fantasies that many of us progressives use to fend off the nightmare of a Romney win in November is the idea that he has flip-flopped so much on his way to a presidential candidacy that maybe once in office he'd flop back to the old Romney and give us a Nixon-in-China moment on climate change. There may have been fat chance of that, but with the choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate, even that illusory comfort is denied to us. With his pick of Ryan, who will address the Republican National Convention tonight, Romney has declared himself to be firmly behind the notion that we can go on burning fossil fuels forever without running out or damaging the climate.

The most explicit statement of Ryan’s climate change views appears in this 2009 op-ed, and since he still features it on his official website, we can take it as an indication of his beliefs. And what a litany of classic denialist dogma it is. He starts off with a cheap shot by implying that Wisconsin residents ought to have a hard time believing that global warming is a problem because they still had to shovel snow in the winter of 2009. Of course, it is absurd to think that any one winter says anything about global warming, still less to think that continued existence or even increase of snowfall is in any way incompatible with overall warming. If Ryan wanted to keep things local, he would have done better to talk to ice fishermen on the Wisconsin lakes, who have seen a dramatic decrease in the duration of ice cover over the past decades.

In this op-ed, Ryan reveals a number of still more alarming beliefs, notably that emails stolen from the East Anglia Climate Research Unit (aka Climategate) show that "leading climatologists make clear efforts to use statistical tricks to distort their findings and intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change," and reveal "a perversion of the scientific method, where data were manipulated to support a predetermined conclusion." He even claims that "The e-mail scandal has ... forced the resignation of a number of discredited scientists" which is not at all true. (One scientist, Phil Jones, temporarily stepped aside while an investigation was taking place.) In fact, the hack was a manufactured controversy, and the real victims were the scientists whose emails were stolen. All have been exonerated completely by numerous independent panels, to say nothing of the fact that the key finding of the Climate Research Unit regarding the global temperature increase has been independently reproduced by the project of now-former-skeptic Richard Muller, who even received Koch funding for his study.

Advertisement

Elsewhere, Ryan wrote that  "there is growing disagreement among scientists about climate change and its causes," which is manifestly not true (see here and here) at least in the reality-based community where one counts only those with real scientific credentials and a track record of having done serious research in the subject. In that article, though, Ryan's statement is tangential to his main beef, which is his belief that cap and trade will cost money and hurt the economy. Like so much of Ryan's economic policy, this belief is based on voodoo economics which counts costs but ignores all benefits—in this case ignoring the harm done by climate change, and the money saved by using energy more efficiently, and the value of health benefits from the concomitant reduction in conventional air pollution. On top of that, there's all the profit to be made in the new industries that will manufacture the technology to implement all these efficiency improvements. For example, this Brookings study finds that cap and trade would have had a net benefit to the U.S. economy.

Most of what Paul Ryan has written specifically about climate change is a corollary to his basic tenet of faith that everything done by the government is necessarily bad, and everything done by the private sector is necessarily good. Consistent with this, he has been outspoken about the government's failed investment in Solyndra, and is against government picking "winners and losers" in energy technology (though, strangely, he manages to suspend this belief when it comes to subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, the elimination of which, in accordance with Grover Norquistian dogma, are viewed as tax increases). He consistently ignores the manifold and arguably greater flubs of private investment. To pick one of the sillier examples, Google paid Paypal co-founder Max Levchin $200 million for a company that made things like electronic-pet apps for Facebook, but wrote off most of its investment a few years later. Or more consequentially, the financial industry's love affair with credit-default swaps, which played a big role in bringing down the world economy. For that matter, in just a few weeks of playing with other peoples' money, a rogue trader for JP Morgan Chase lost about four times as much as the Obama administration invested in Solyndra.

Ryan’s legislative record is littered with the carcasses of environmental regulations he has attempted to gut. Over the years, Ryan seems to have been striving to perfect his anti-environmental record. According to the League of Conservation Voters, when he was first elected in 1999 he racked up a 27 percent positive rating, which is not great but at least it didn't put him in the top-10 Earth abusers. By the 111th Congress (2009-10) he had brought that down to 13 percent, and the scorecard for the first session of the 112th Congress was down to 3 percent.

Like almost all Republicans, he supports the climate-killing Keystone XL pipeline. Most tellingly, in a stunning attempt to legislate away a scientific conclusion, he voted to repeal the EPA finding that greenhouse gases endanger human health—the basis for EPA regulation of carbon dioxide emissions. Despite increasing evidence of the vulnerability of U.S. agriculture to global warming, he voted to bar the Department of Agriculture from implementing its climate change adaptation plan. It seems Ryan doesn't even like efforts to stimulate improvement in energy efficiency, despite the fact that these would have numerous benefits aside from their contribution to reducing carbon emissions. For example, he voted against the Department of Agriculture energy efficiency loans program, and voted to eliminate funding for the Department of Energy's energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. He even voted to block implementation of energy-efficient lighting standards despite the fact that these were first proposed in the Bush administration, are widely backed by lighting manufacturers, and do not even (as widely believed) ban incandescent light bulbs.

It's not just protection against global-warming pollution that gets Ryan's dander up—he has consistently voted against controls on the forms of pollution that can kill you by more conventional and obvious means. You don't like air pollution from industrial boilers or cement kilns? Too bad: Ryan does, and he has voted to block regulations that would reduce such forms of pollution. How about water pollution from toxic coal ash? Ryan's fine with that. It's hard to find any kind of pollution Ryan doesn't like, at least as long as it has something to do with the interests of the fossil fuel industry.

With a track record like that, is it any surprise that Paul Ryan is the darling of the denialist crowd? S. Fred Singer, one of the favorite consultants of the Heartland Institute (responsible recently for this billboard) declared Paul Ryan to be "the perfect anti-Gore." Marc Morano, the Swift Boat mastermind who was point man for Sen. James Inhofe's jihad against climate science before setting up his own denial shop at ClimateDepot, has even more lavish praise for Ryan: “Rep. Paul Ryan has an awesome energy & climate record. It will be so refreshing to have a VP candidate who actually understands how warmists like James Hansen, Michael Oppenheimer, Michael Mann, Phil Jones, & Kevin Trenberth have perverted science and turned it into pure politics." What’s more, “According to his voting record on energy and oil, Ryan is about as conservative as they come.”

So yes, there can no longer be any doubt about what a Romney/Ryan victory would mean for those of us would like to preserve some chance that our descendants will be able to enjoy the same equable climate of the past 10,000 years, under which the rise of civilization was nurtured. There will be no Nixon-in-China moment, no silver lining; Christmas will bring only a lump of coal in the stocking, and we will have to suck on that.

Raymond T. Pierrehumbert is the Louis Block professor in geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago and the King Carl XVI Gustaf chairman in environmental science at Stockholms Universitet.

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Nov. 21 2014 1:38 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? See if you can keep pace with the copy desk, Slate’s most comprehensive reading team.