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Republicans vs. Pope: Where GOP candidates stand on climate change

Republican Candidates Take Part In Debates At Reagan Library In Simi ValleyRepublican Candidates Take Part In Debates At Reagan Library In Simi Valley
Republican presidential candidate Donald TrumpPhotograph by Justin Sullivan — Getty Images

In his public remarks after landing in Washington, D.C. for his first-ever trip to the United States, Pope Francis on Wednesday commended President Barack Obama on his efforts to fight climate change—a problem that the pontiff said in a June encyclical could cause “unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequence for all of us” unless there’s immediate action.

On Wednesday, Francis told the president, “I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution. Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our ‘common home,’ we are living at a critical moment of history.”

If the Pope had been addressing the climate change positions of the Republican field of presidential candidates, he may not have been so complimentary, since many of the contenders not only denounce government intervention to combat climate change but reject climate science altogether. Here’s where the leading GOP presidential candidates stand on the issue:.

Donald Trump: “I believe there’s weather”

GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump speaks at a news conference in Manhattan on September 3, 2015 in New York City.

On Monday, the GOP frontrunner was characteristically vague in an interview with radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt in which he denied that climate change exists. “So I am not a believer, and I will, unless somebody can prove something to me, I believe there’s weather. I believe there’s change, and I believe it goes up and it goes down, and it goes up again. And it changes depending on years and centuries, but I am not a believer, and we have much bigger problems.” he said.

Those remarks built on a stance he took in 2012 with a tweet that read “The concept of global warning was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

Carly Fiorina: “Read all the fine print of science”

Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina.

In an interview with Yahoo’s Katie Couric, Fiorina downplayed climate change as a national security matter, stating that Americans’ dependence on government programs, eduction, a bloated federal government, and “the dangers we face around the world” are higher priorities. She emphasized the need for developing clean coal technology while criticizing wind power for “slaughtering millions of birds…eagles, falcons—birds that people care about” and solar energy as requiring too much water. She said there was a need for more transparency on the issue of climate change. “The American people can handle tradeoffs; they’re pretty smart. Let’s tell them the truth about what the tradeoffs are…as well about the fine print of the science.”

Ben Carson: “We may be warming. We may be cooling”

Dr. Ben Carson

Carson, a scientist, isn’t necessarily buying what science has to say about climate change. In an interview in November, prior to declaring his candidacy, the retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon said that there’s “always going to be either cooling or warming going on.” In his view, “that’s irrelevant. What is relevant is that we have an obligation and a responsibility to protect our environment.” He said he would encourage the Environmental Protection Agency to work with businesses and universities “to find the most eco-friendly ways of developing our energy resources.”

Marco Rubio: “America is not a planet”

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines in August 2015.

In the CNN Republican debate on September 16, moderator Jake Tapper asked candidates to discuss their views on climate change. Rubio declared that “America is not a planet.” The oft-repeated soundbite illustrates Rubio’s stance against the U.S. implementing unilateral regulation aimed at curbing climate change. Such policies, “make America a harder place to create jobs in order to pursue policies that will do absolutely nothing, nothing to change our climate,” he said.

That stance is less anti-science than Rubio’s previous comments.  In 2014, he said that he didn’t believe that “human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.” But earlier this year that came after the Pope’s encyclical on the environment, Rubio, a Catholic, acknowledged the pontiff has a “moral authority” to “[remind] us of our obligation to be good caretakers of the planet.” He added, “And I do believe it’s in the common good to protect our environment. But I also believe it’s in the common good to protect our economy.”

Jeb Bush: Let’s not “be alarmists about it.”

The former Florida governor also has an evolving perspective on climate change. In July, he said that humans are partly responsible for climate change, an admission he’d failed to make in the past. And he too said the United States should not sacrifice its economic viability for environmental conservation. “I think we have a responsibility to adapt to what the possibilities are without destroying our economy, without hollowing out our industrial core,” he said. He downplayed climate change as an urgent issue, and he said that Americans should “not be alarmists about it.” Bush wants the U.S. to embrace climate change solutions that stem from innovation, technology and science, rather than relying on “any government-imposed idea.” He has also touted his efforts as Florida governor to save the Everglades.

Earlier this year, Bush, a Catholic, spoke out against the Pope’s comments on climate change, saying that they too closely mixed religion and politics.

Ted Cruz: Scientists are “cooking the books”

Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during a town hall event at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa.

Before an audience of influential conservative donors in August, the Texas senator said there are no facts to back up claims of climate change. “If you look at satellite data for the last 18 years, there’s been zero recorded warming,” Cruz said. “The satellite says it ain’t happening.” He said government researchers are reverse engineering the statistics that point to a warming planet and compared their apparent falsification of data to the Enron scandal. “They’re cooking the books. They’re actually adjusting the numbers,” he said.

Mike Huckabee: Climate science “is not settled”

Mike Huckabee

In an interview on “Meet the Press” in June, Huckabee expressed skepticism about climate science. He cites theories from the 1970s that warned of a cooling planet. “Go back and look at the covers of Time and Newsweek from the early ’70s. And we were told that if we didn’t do something by 1980, we’d be popsicles. Now we’re told that we’re all burning up. Science is not as settled on that as it is on some things.”

Those comments represent a stark shift from what he said in 2007, during his last bid for the White House, when he said, “One thing that all of us have a responsibility to do is recognize that climate change is here, it’s real.”

Rand Paul: Three hurricanes do not prove anything

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) addresses the 42nd annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort Hotel and Convention Center on February 27, 2015 in National Harbor, Maryland.

In an interview in April, prior to declaring his presidential candidacy, Paul cast skepticism on climate science. He said that the earth goes through climate cycles and he’s “not sure anybody exactly knows why.”

“What I would say is someone is an ignoramus who would say, ‘Oh yeah, three hurricanes this year, this proves that somehow the climate is warming,’ Paul said. “The earth is 4.5 billion years old, and so, you are going to say we had four hurricanes and so that proves a theory? No.”

The Kentucky senator says he is against pollution and supports nations taking measure to cut emissions, but he doesn’t believe the “alarmist” claims that the planet will be destroyed by warming temperatures.

Chris Christie: Climate change isn’t “deniable” but we can’t fix it ourselves

Chris Christie addresses an audience during a his birthday celebration in September 2014.

Of all the leading Republican candidates, the New Jersey governor has been one of the most vocal in acknowledging that climate change exists and is a result of human activity. In an interview in May, Christie said that global warming is real. “I don’t think that’s deniable. And I do think human activity contributes to it.”

Despite that outright admission, Christie has spoken out against government action on the issue. In the May interview, he said that the U.S. should not act unilaterally when “folks in China are doing things to the environment that would never be done in our country.” And in the September CNN Republican debate, Christie fielded the climate change question along with Rubio and, like Rubio, he blasted regulation. “We shouldn’t be destroying our economy in order to chase some wide-held, left-wing idea that somehow us by ourselves is going to fix the climate. We can contribute to that and be economically sound,” he said, adding that “nuclear [energy] needs to be back on the table in a significant way in this country if we want to go after these problems.”

John Kasich: Climate change is a problem but let’s not “overreact”

John Kasich, Republican governor of Ohio

In a 2012 interview, the governor of Ohio said that “there is a problem with climate change,” but he is against the EPA regulating emissions. “I don’t want to overreact to it, I can’t measure it all, but I respect the creation that the Lord has given us and I want to make sure we protect it,” he said. Instead, he says that states and private companies should work to limit carbon emissions for coal-burning power plants. Kasich’s opposition to federal regulation of carbon output shouldn’t come as a surprise. Ohio is the top producer and user of coal—the U.S.’s leading source of carbon dioxide pollution.