Why Huntsman’s climate struggles matter

In the surest sign yet that Jon Huntsman, President Obama’s former ambassador to China, is running for president, the Republican has given up his support for cap-and-trade. He joins Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, who did the same thing before launching their own national bids.

But Taegan Goddard flags an interesting quote from Huntsman on the issue, which speaks to a larger concern. When Time magazine asked, “You also believe in climate change, right?” Huntsman replied:

“I’m not a meteorologist. All I know is 90 percent of the scientists say climate change is occurring. If 90 percent of the oncological community said something was causing cancer we’d listen to them.”

In the same interview, Huntsman defended his flip-flop on cap-and-trade, saying the economy is “in a different place than five years ago.” Reminded how easy it is to always put environmental crises on the back burner behind other priorities, Huntsman added that addressing climate change would put “additional burdens on the pillars of growth,” which is “counter-productive.”

This is, in general, the worst of all possible positions. Much of the right believes climate change is a “hoax” and an elaborate conspiracy cooked up by communists to destroy America’s way of life. These deniers have a simple solution to the problem: ignore it and pretend there is no problem. Much of the left takes the evidence seriously, is eager to address the crisis, and has a variety of possible solutions to the problem, including but not limited to cap-and-trade plans.

Huntsman apparently wants to split the difference — he accepts the evidence and believes the problem is real; Huntsman just doesn’t want to do anything about it.

To borrow his analogy, Huntsman has heard the collective judgment of 90% of the world’s oncologists, but believes it’d be inconvenient to deal with the cancer or what’s causing the cancer anytime soon.

I should also note that the premise here is equally dubious — Huntsman is convinced that dealing with the climate crisis would necessarily do meaningful damage to the economy, and there’s ample evidence to believe otherwise.

But even putting that aside, Huntsman isn’t doing himself any favors by trying to thread this needle. The right will be unimpressed that he believes the science, and the left will be unimpressed that he prefers to ignore the problem for the indefinite future.

In the meantime, the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, is continuing to remind the nation that the climate crisis is real, the effects are already becoming serious, and there is a “pressing” need for policymakers to do something about it.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation