With millions of Americans feeling the wrath of Hurricane Sandy, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney is comparing the massive recovery effort to cleaning up "rubbish and paper products" from a high school football field. But don't expect him to discuss how Sandy's severity is directly linked to climate change. Romney shifted his position on climate change in October 2011, around the same time he was seeking support from billionaire industrialist David Koch, a major funder of climate change denial groups and whose profits could be impacted by limits on carbon emissions.
Romney: "I think the global warming debate is now pretty much over"
As Governor of Massachusetts between 2002 and 2006, Romney said green energy could create jobs and recognized that climate change was caused by human activity. "I think the global warming debate is now pretty much over and people recognize the need associated with providing sources which do not generate the heat currently provided by fossil fuels," he said in 2003. He even opposed a temporary suspension of the state's gasoline tax during a period of high gas prices in 2006, saying that "these high gasoline prices are probably here to stay and that the appropriate action for us to take is to find ways to find fuel conservation."
Early in the presidential campaign Romney still recognized the existence of climate change. In June of 2011 he said, "I believe the world's getting warmer" and "I believe that humans contribute to that ... so I think it's important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases." Even in August of 2011, after climate change denier and Texas Governor Rick Perry had entered the GOP presidential primary and was a threat to Romney's candidacy, he still said, "I think the earth is getting warmer ... I think humans contribute to that. I don't know by how much. It could be a little. It could be a lot."
Just weeks later, Romney had completely shifted his position. On October 28, 2011, he said, "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 to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us." By the time of the Republican National Convention in August of 2012, Romney was openly mocking any notion of taking action to slow global warming.
Romney Changed Position While Wooing Kochs
One clue might come from a Romney campaign memo dated October 4, 2011 -- just weeks before the candidate flip-flopped on climate change -- indicating that Romney had been actively seeking the endorsement of Koch Industries heir David Koch. David and his brother Charles are top funders of climate change denial front groups and have long played an important role in choosing GOP political candidates, both via direct donations and through organizations like the David Koch-founded-and-led Americans for Prosperity.
Romney at the time was struggling for Tea Party support, and the memo, obtained by the conservative Washington Examiner noted that the Kochs were the "financial engine of the Tea Party." According to the Washington Examiner, just a few days after Romney announced his new agnosticism on climate change he bypassed an important Iowa event in advance of that state's crucial primary to speak at an AFP event. Romney also had scheduled a meeting at Koch's home in Southampton, NY, but it was cancelled because of the last natural disaster to pummel the East Coast, Hurricane Irene.
Though the Kochs had endorsed Romney in his 2008 presidential run, the Koch endorsement for 2012 was not immediate. Herman Cain, who had previously worked with Americans for Prosperity and referred to himself as the "Koch brothers' brother from another mother" at a November 2011 AFP convention, was leading in the polls until late last year, when allegations of sexual harassment and an extra-marital affair sank his campaign. But Romney eventually survived the GOP primary and sufficiently ingratiated himself with the Koch brothers to earn their endorsement.
And the Kochs have come through for Romney. In addition to the mailer sent to 45,000 Koch Industries employees urging them to vote for Romney and other Republicans, David Koch's AFP has spent at least $31 million on ads attacking President Barack Obama, and have spent millions more organizing a sophisticated get-out-the-vote effort for Romney.
David Koch also held a $50,000 per plate Romney fundraiser in July, and mocked a plane flying overhead with a MoveOn.org banner that read "Romney Has a Koch Problem." Koch told the crowd, "I understand there is a plane out there saying Mitt Romney has 'a Koch problem.' I don't look at it as a problem; I look at it as an asset."
With Atlantic storms growing in frequency and severity as a result of warming oceans, millions of Americans are becoming increasingly vulnerable to catastrophe -- but Romney's opportunistic "Koch problem" may have pushed him into taking a position that ignores reality.