the national interest

Marco Rubio Still Not a Scientist, Man

Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL, pauses during his speech to the 39th Conservative Political Action Committee(CPAC) February 9, 2012 in Washington, DC.
Science! Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP

If there’s a single line that encapsulates the mindless anti-government doggerel that characterized Marco Rubio’s response to the State of the Union address it was his flip dismissal of any government response to climate change, because “our government can’t control the weather.”

What does this mean? Let us run through the chain of causality at a level of simplicity that Rubio is capable of grasping:

1. The government has a bunch of rules that control how much coal, oil, and whatnot gets burned.

2. The more greenhouse gasses we burn, the warmer the climate gets. It’s science.

3. The warmer the climate gets, the more frequently we have extreme weather events. This is also science.

Therefore, things the government does, in step 1, eventually produce an outcome of more or fewer extreme weather events, in step 3.

What part of this does Rubio deny? I have never heard even the most extreme libertarian deny that government policy can change how much coal and oil we burn. On the contrary, the right-wing line is that heavy-handed government is running the poor coal and oil operators into the ground and forcing us all to live like primitive druids.

That leaves steps 2 and 3 as possible areas of dispute. Denying the link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change remains as firmly ensconced as ever in the Republican liturgy. But the party’s reputation for scientific ignorance has proven to be at least a slight embarrassment among general election audiences. During the GOP primaries, Mitt Romney took a straightforward denialist line on climate science (“we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet”) before later softening his position for the general election.

So what’s going on here is that Rubio wants to uphold the Republican position without coming across to non-Republicans as a total yahoo. So he is not directly questioning the carbon-climate link, but instead moving his skepticism to the climate-weather link. Saying “government can’t control the weather” sounds plausible enough — a way to take a position that doesn’t sound completely insane to audiences but is, in fact, completely insane. In this way, it is the quintessential Marco Rubio utterance.

Marco Rubio Still Not a Scientist, Man