GOP's global warming rumble: Sarah Palin v. Arnold Schwarzenegger

The spat between California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin over the Copenhagen climate talks highlights the GOP's divided views on global warming.

Anders Debel Hansen/Scanpix/Reuters
Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of the state of California, listens to a question during a debate at the Climate Summit for Mayors at the Copenhagen City Hall, Wednesday.
Jerome A. Pollos/AP/Coeur d'Alene Press
Sarah Palin listens to a autograph seeker, Dec. 10, during a book signing event held in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

The Sarah Palin-Arnold Schwarzenegger clash over climate change pits two Republican stalwarts in a tiff that brings to the fore the divisions within the GOP on environmental policy and global warming.

It all began when the California governor questioned Ms. Palin’s motivation for penning an op-ed article in The Washington Post that questions climate change science based on leaked e-mails from a leading research group. (Read more about the controversy over climate researchers’ hacked e-mails here.)

In her Dec. 9 article, Ms. Palin criticized the Democrats cap-and-trade plan to limit greenhouse-gas emissions as a jobs killer and called on President Obama to boycott the Copenhagen climate talks, reflecting a skeptical view of global warming often seen in conservatives' Tea Party protests.

Mr. Schwarzenegger, a leading proponent of environmental policies to head off climate change, told the Financial Times: "You have to ask: what was she trying to accomplish? Is she really interested in this subject or is she interested in her career and in winning the nomination [for president]?"

The governor then said this to ‘Good Morning America’ Tuesday: "I think there are people that just don't believe in fixing and working on the environment. They don't believe there is such a thing as global warming, they're still living in the Stone Age."

Palin fired back on Facebook: “Why is Governor Schwarzenegger pushing for the same sorts of policies in Copenhagen that have helped drive his state into record deficits and unemployment?”

She was “among the first governors to create a sub-cabinet to deal specifically with climate change,” she said, adding, “While I and all Alaskans witness the impacts of changes in weather patterns firsthand, I have repeatedly said that we can't primarily blame man's activities for those changes. And while I did look for practical responses to those changes, what I didn't do was hamstring Alaska's job creators with burdensome regulations so that I could act "greener than thou" when talking to reporters.”

Palin's view on climate change is certainly not the most skeptical within the GOP. She acknowledges climate change may be a problem but that "we can't say with assurance that man's activities cause weather changes."

Republicans and their leaders are “still divided over whether global warming is actually happening,” noted Politico earlier this year. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that the percentage of Republicans who believe in climate change has fallen by 20 points since 2006. Fifty-four percent of Republicans believe global warming is actually happening, compared with 86 percent of Democrats (Democrats' belief in climate change has also dropped since 2006 but only by six points.)

While Schwarzenegger is probably among the greenest in his party – and not enough for many California environmentalists – he does have some powerful company, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina and, to an extent, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona. Senator Graham is working on a climate change bill with Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut that the two hope can gain enough GOP support to pass.

However, Graham has certainly taken some heat from the GOP base recently for his support for the climate change legislation. At a recent town hall meeting in Greenville, S.C., an audience member told Graham he had betrayed the party.

Perhaps more representative of the views of some of the Republican base is Sen. James Inhofe (R) of Oklahoma, who stood on the Senate floor in 2003 and called global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."

He is set to travel to Copenhagen to warn negotiators that Republican lawmakers would not support caps on carbon emissions being considered at the United Nations climate talks. He recently told CNN, in reference to the Climategate emails, that "every day something new comes out that has really, totally debunked the science behind the whole thing they're in Copenhagen for."


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