Romney Seemingly Shifts On Climate Change

Thursday in Pittsburgh, Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney appeared to shift his position on climate change. Speaking at the Consol Energy Center, he said, "My view is that we don't know what's causing climate change on this planet." In his book No Apology and in earlier public appearances, Romney has said that he believes climate change is occurring — and that humans are a contributing factor. At a campaign appearance in New Hampshire back in August, Romney emphasized questions about the extent of the human role. But his remarks in Pittsburgh represent a clear shirt toward a skeptical position on the causes of climate change.

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MICHELE NORRIS, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. Mitt Romney has taken political heat for changing his views on issues including abortion and health care, and today, Texas Governor Rick Perry charged him with flip-flopping on climate change, as well.

In the spotlight are Romney's comments yesterday at a fundraiser in Pittsburgh. NPR's Richard Harris has the story.

RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: Here's what Mitt Romney had to say about global warming last year in his book, "No Apology."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

MITT ROMNEY: 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.

HARRIS: Romney backed up those words with actions as governor of Massachusetts by imposing some modest restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions. But yesterday, at a private event in the heart of coal country, Romney left out that bit about human activity. Here's a clip from YouTube.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

ROMNEY: 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 and reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.

HARRIS: This new shading of language appears to push Romney farther to the right, says Anthony Leiserowitz at the Yale University Project on Climate Change Communication.

ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: We've seen a struggle within the Republican Party on this exact issue where, up to now, Romney and Huntsman basically took the position that climate change is happening and human caused and that something needed to be done.

HARRIS: That position of Romney and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman is backed up by scientific organizations around the world, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. But public opinion remains split. Leiserowitz says Republicans are less likely to accept that humans are contributing to climate change. Even so, overall, more than half of the American public accepts a human role.

LEISEROWITZ: And, of course, those are going to be important votes, especially those independent moderate voters who tend to think that climate change is a real problem.

HARRIS: But many voters may not care so much whether Governor Romney accepts the science of climate change. Leiserowitz says many people care more about whether he's being consistent in his views.

LEISEROWITZ: The danger for Mitt Romney is that it plays into an emerging narrative and certainly a narrative that his opponents are trying to paint him as a flip-flopper.

HARRIS: Romney's opponent Rick Perry leveled exactly that charge. In fact, it's the second time this week. Romney backtracked on a comment about an Ohio ballot measure on public employee unions. As for the charge that he flip-flopped on climate, his campaign said: ridiculous. Governor Romney still believes that human activity is contributing to climate change.

Richard Harris, NPR News.

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