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Has Marco Rubio backtracked on climate change?

By Julie Kliegman May 14, 2014

For a presidential hopeful who openly admits he’s not a scientist, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has repeatedly put himself in the spotlight debating climate change recently.

Rubio took heat for a May 11, 2014, interview with Jonathan Karl on ABC’s This Week. "I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it," he said. "And I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it. Except it will destroy our economy."

Rubio often phrases his climate changes statements as opinions, but when opinions contradict established scientific facts, we rate them on our Truth-O-Meter. Rubio’s statement contradicts what 97.1 percent of climate change findings that took a position on the issue have concluded, so we rated his statement False.

We weren’t the only ones to notice Rubio’s comments. The Washington Post published a scathing editorial implying that if he can’t accept concrete science, he’s not ready to be president.

Days after his comments on This Week, Rubio appeared on CNBC’s Squawk Box with host Joe Kernen, who gave Rubio some friendly ribbing about touching a hot-button issue.

Kernen: "Repeat after me: I believe that climate is changing. That’s all you need to say."

Rubio: "I’ve actually said that. What I don’t believe is these laws will do anything about it."

Kernen: "I saw you backtrack on it."

Rubio: "No, I didn’t. I actually said the same thing I said before."

Based on this brief back-and-forth, we’re not sure what exactly Kernen thinks Rubio is back-tracking on.

It’s possible he was thinking of Rubio’s comments two days after the This Week interview, when Rubio gave a speech at the National Press Club speech:

"There are things that we can do to become more efficient in our use of energy ... But for people to go out and say 'if you pass this bill that I am proposing this will somehow lead us to have less tornadoes? and less hurricanes' that's just not an accurate statement and that's what I take issue with," he said.

Those comments omitted the question of human activity altogether, but they didn’t contradict his earlier statement.

Looking back at all of Rubio’s comments over the years, we noticed that Rubio has kept his stance more or less the same.

What has he said in the past?

Rubio consistently either avoids the link between human activity and climate change, or outright denies it. We tracked this over a period of several years.

Organizing For Action, a group that backs President Barack Obama, had this to say about Rubio in 2013: "It's time everyone in Florida knows: Sen. Rubio is a climate change denier." We rated that Mostly True.

Back in 2007, Rubio almost, but not quite, acknowledged human impact on the environment.

"Global warming, dependence on foreign sources of fuel, and capitalism have come together to create opportunities for us that were unimaginable just a few short years ago," he said. "Today, Florida has the opportunity to pursue bold energy policies, not just because they’re good for our environment, but because people can actually make money doing it. This nation and ultimately the world is headed toward emission caps and energy diversification."

But from 2009 onward, we’ve seen Rubio openly question scientists’ conclusions about man causing global warming.

  • Dec. 10, 2009 - Miami Herald: "I'm not a scientist. I'm not qualified to make that decision. There's a significant scientific dispute about that."

  • Feb. 13, 2010 - Tampa Tribune: "I don't think there's the scientific evidence to justify it."

  • Feb. 5, 2013 - BuzzFeed: "The climate’s always changing -- that’s not the fundamental question. The fundamental question is whether man-made activity is what’s contributing most to it. I know people said there’s a significant scientific consensus on that issue, but I’ve actually seen reasonable debate on that principle."

  • Feb. 12, 2013 - State of the Union response: "When we point out that no matter how many job-killing laws we pass, our government can’t control the weather – he accuses us of wanting dirty water and dirty air."

  • Feb. 13, 2013 - Fox and Friends: "The government can’t change the weather. I said that in the speech. We can pass a bunch of laws that will destroy our economy, but it isn’t going to change the weather. Because, for example, there are other countries that are polluting in the atmosphere much greater than we are at this point -- China, India, all these countries that are still growing."

  • June 25, 2013 - online statement: In response to a speech in which Obama outlined a series of measures on climate change that he could accomplish by executive order, Rubio said: "This time, President Obama is discarding the Constitution and free enterprise system in the name of a job-killing environmental agenda. We must do everything we can to stand in his way."

We’ve noted before that as a Florida legislator, Rubio must contend with research that pegs Miami and Tampa as two of the U.S. cities most likely to be impacted by climate change. Rising sea levels will make them more prone to flooding.

As he readies himself for a potential run at the presidency, Rubio isn’t backing down on his criticism of climate change science.

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Has Marco Rubio backtracked on climate change?