Rick Santorum was asked about climate change recently, while campaigning in New Hampshire. The video of his response, as well as the transcript, can be found here.
Suffice it to say that while Santorum sounds thoughtful and rational in his response, in fact he gravely misrepresents scientific knowledge and understanding.
Let's turn to the tape.
Santorum starts off well enough:
The question is on how do I get my policies with climate change science.
I get asked this question a lot, and you look at the data and you can see some change in the climate.
But then again, pick a point in history where you haven’t seen a change in the climate.
The climate does change.
The question is, what is causing the climate to change.
And I think most scientists, in fact, I assume all scientists would agree there are a variety of factors that cause the climate change.
I don’t think any scientist in the world would suggest there isn’t a variety of factors, and I think the vast majority of scientists would say there’s probably a hundred factors that cause the climate to change.
A hundred factors? Well, there are a lot of factors that can influence the climate, that's for sure. So far, Santorum is pretty accurately representing climate science. But he continues:
And so why have we decided that this one particular factor, carbon dioxide, is in fact that tip of the tail that wags the entire dog.
Why from a scientific point of view do we make the assertion that this is in fact what is the case when there is a whole lot of other factors out there that could be affecting it?
So, that’s the question.
Notice the trick here. Up until this point, Santorum is accurately reflecting what scientists think. But now he isn't any more. Now he's contradicting them.
It's true there are lots of factors that can influence climate. But the chief factor that, scientists agree, is currently driving global warming is human induced greenhouse gas emissions.
Why does Santorum trust scientists to determine which different factors influence the climate, but not to determine the relative importance of these factors? Why would scientists be more trustworthy on one score than the other?
In my view, you either trust scientists or you don't. You don't get to pick and choose which parts of the scientific consensus you accept, and which part you don't. The whole point of trusting scientists is that they’re better than non-scientists at figuring out what findings can be reliably believed.
And the reality is that scientists both agree that many factors influence the global climate, and think global warming is mostly driven by human activities. There's no contradiction here—except perhaps in Santorum's willingness to head one scientific conclusion but not another.
(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Gage Skidmore)