Global warming has become a hot potato, at least for Republican presidential candidates.
We’ve seen candidates for the Republican nomination question whether there’s scientific consensus on climate change, but those statements are at odds with the facts. We’ve found the scientific consensus is still firmly on the side of a warming planet. We looked at Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s statement that scientists are "questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change. … (It is) more and more being put into question." We rated that False.
The Democratic National Committee recently attacked Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, for flip-flopping on whether he believes climate change was real. (It also accused him of flip-flopping on a number of other issues; see all of our fact-checks of their claims here.)
In a four-minute web ad, the DNC spliced together video of Romney first saying, "Well, I believe the world is getting warmer … I believe that humans contribute to that."
And then saying, "My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet."
We decided to check into whether Romney has changed his views or not.
Romney’s comments, take 1
Romney’s first comments were from a town hall in New Hampshire in June 2011. A voter asked if he thought climate change existed and was caused by human activity, noting that scientific evidence showed that to be the case.
Here’s part of Romney’s answer (watch the exchange on C-SPAN starting at the 21:00 mark):
"I don't speak for the scientific community, of course. But I believe the world is getting warmer. I can't prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer. And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that. I don’t know how much our contribution is to that, because I know there have been periods of greater heat and warmth in the past, but I believe that we contribute to that. So I think it's important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you're seeing."
Romney then suggested that the U.S. should reduce its dependence on foreign oil and use more domestically produced natural gas and nuclear energy. And he said some carbon-emitting forms of energy would still have to be used.
Romney also said he opposed the United States unilaterally adopting a cap-and-trade plan if other countries weren’t taking similar steps to reduce greenhouse emissions. For background, a cap-and-trade plan would require industry to pay for their carbon emissions with new permit fees. There would be a limited amount of permits (the "cap"), but companies would be able to buy and sell the permits among themselves (the "trade").
Romney also mentioned that he wrote about energy policy in his book, No Apology. In that book, he wrote, "I believe that climate change is occurring. The reduction in the size of global ice caps is hard to ignore. I also believe that human activity is a contributing factor."
He also wrote that cap-and-trade was "an energy tax, disguised in the sheep’s clothing of market terminology. And it is an energy tax that would have little or no effect on global warming."
Romney’s comments, take 2
Romney’s second set of comments came at a campaign event in Pittsburgh, Pa., a few months later. His comments were videotaped and posted to a blog called New Hampshire 2012: Green and promoted by Think Progress.
In this case, a voter asked Romney, "What is your position on man-made global warming and would you reject legislation, such as cap and trade, which is based on the idea of man-made global warming?"
Romney first said he was opposed to cap-and-trade, then said this:
"My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us. My view with regards to energy policy is pretty straightforward. I want us to become energy secure and independent of the oil cartels. And that means let’s aggressively develop our oil, our gas, our coal, our nuclear power."
Much of Romney’s underlying policy-- reduce foreign oil dependence; increase the use of natural gas and nuclear power; oppose cap-and-trade -- remained the same in both contexts. In a few cases, he even uses the same phrasing to describe the policies.
But his comments about the cause of global warming did change markedly.
After Romney’s remarks were widely reported, Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul told the Boston Globe that Romney was not flip-flopping: "This is ridiculous," she said in a statement. "Governor Romney’s view on climate change has not changed. He believes it’s occurring, and that human activity contributes to it, but he doesn’t know to what extent. He opposes cap and trade, and he refused to sign such a plan when he was governor."
We will be watching to see if Romney is asked again about his thoughts on global warming; we were unable to find any other remarks since then about whether he thought human beings contribute to global warming or not.
In June 2011, Romney said he believed "the world is getting warmer" and that "humans contribute to that." In October 2011, Romney said that "we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet."
Interestingly, in spite of his comments on the causes of climate change, Romney outlined the same set of energy policies: in favor of more natural gas and nuclear power; against foreign oil; for the continued use of domestic oil; against a cap-and-trade plan.
Because he didn’t articulate any change of policy, we find Romney’s comments on the causes of climate change perplexing, and we would be interested in hearing him answer pointed questions on the matter. His spokeswoman says the two statements are consistent. But the videos clearly shows that he said different things on the causes of climate change to different audiences, and we believe Romney is savvy enough to know the difference between suggesting a human role in climate change and leaving it out.
We rate the DNC’s statement Mostly True.