Palin says cause of global warming "doesn't matter"

In an interview with CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric that aired Tuesday, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said that it "kinda doesn't matter at this point" if human activity is responsible for climate change.

By , Blogger for The Christian Science Monitor

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    A screenshot of CBS news anchor Katie Couric's interview with Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, which aired Tuesday.
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In an interview with CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric that aired Tuesday, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said that it "kinda doesn't matter at this point" if human activity is responsible for climate change.

You can see a video of the interview here. The topic of global warming comes up about four and a half minutes in:

Couric: What's your position on global warming? Do you believe it's manmade or not?
Palin: Well, we're the only Arctic state, of course, Alaska. So we feel the impacts more than any other state, up there, with the changes in climates. And, and certainly it is apparent. We have erosion issues, and we have melting sea ice, of course. So, what I've done up there is form a sub-cabinet to focus solely on climate change. Understanding that it is real, and …
Couric: Is it man-made, though in your view?
Palin: You know there are – there are man's activities that can be contributed [sic] to the issues that we're dealing with now, with these impacts. I'm not going to solely blame all of man's activities on changes in climate. Because the world's weather patterns are cyclical. And over history we have seen changes there. But it kinda doesn't matter at this point, as we debate what caused it. The point is: it's real; we need to do something about it.

Gov. Palin's response is similar to the one she gave last month when ABC News's Charlie Gibson asked  her the same question. Mr. Gibson pressed the issue harder than Ms. Couric did. Here's how that exchange went:

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Palin: I believe that man’s activities certainly can be contributing to the issue of global warming, climate change. Here in Alaska, the only Arctic state in our Union, of course, we see the effects of climate change more so than any other area, with ice pack melting. Regardless, though, of the reason for climate change – whether it’s entirely, wholly caused by man’s activities or is part of the cyclical nature of our planet, the warming and the cooling trends – regardless of that, John McCain and I agree that we got to do something about it, and we have to make sure that we’re doing all we can to cut down on pollution.
Gibson: But it’s a critical point, as to whether this is manmade. He says it is. You have said in the past it’s not.
Palin: The debate on that even really has evolved into, "OK, here’s where we are now: Scientists do show us that there are changes in climate. Things are getting warmer. Now, what do we do about it?" John McCain and I are going to be working on what we do.
Gibson:  Yes, but isn’t it critical as to whether or not it’s manmade? Because what you do about it depends on whether it’s manmade.
Palin: That’s why I’m attributing some of man’s activities to potentially causing some of the changes in the climate right now.

Gibson's point – that humanity's response to global warming should be informed by its cause – is a valid one. If greenhouse gas emissions are changing the earth's climate, then efforts to protect ourselves from the effects of climate change should include curbing these emissions. If global warming is caused only by natural cycles, then curbing emissions will do nothing and humanity should focus on adaptation.

Alaska's Climate Change Sub-Cabinet, which Palin established in September 2007, does take up issues of mitigation, but most of its focus is on adaptation – such as how to help remote Inuit communities deal with coastal erosiion.

A story last week in the Washington Post indicates that the Alaska governor is well aware of global warming's effects on her state, but has dodged the question of its causes:

Palin does not minimize the consequences. When she established her climate sub-cabinet last September, she said in a news release that Alaskans "are already seeing the effects" of warming: "Coastal erosion, thawing permafrost, retreating sea ice and record forest fires affect our communities and our infrastructure."
But when environmentalists urged the governor to include language attributing global warming to humans and suggested that the state set a target for limiting greenhouse gas emissions, Palin hedged. Instead, she issued an executive order saying the state needed to develop a strategy that would "guide its efforts in evaluating and addressing known or suspected causes of climate change. Alaska's climate change strategy must be built on sound science and the best available facts and must recognize Alaska's interest in economic growth and the development of its resources."

Before being selected as John McCain's running mate, Palin took a stronger stance against the notion that humans are to blame for global warming. When Newsmax asked for the Alaska governor's "take on global warming" this summer, she said, “A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I’m not one though who would attribute it to being manmade.”

According to the Associated Press, in December 2007, Palin said to the  Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, “I’m not an Al Gore, doom-and-gloom environmentalist blaming the changes in our climate on human activity.”

Palin's current position, that the causes of climate change are unimportant but that we should take action to protect ourselves from it, is somewhat undercut by the Climate Change Sub-Cabinet's website. The section called "What Is Alaska Already Doing," has only two words: "coming soon."

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