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Republican Candidates Slam Obama's Focus On Climate Change

President Obama arrives Monday to deliver a speech at the COP 21 United Nations conference on climate change.
Eric Feferberg
AFP/Getty Images
President Obama arrives Monday to deliver a speech at the COP 21 United Nations conference on climate change.

President Obama is warning that the next person to step into his job will inherit the challenge of addressing climate change, and he says a Republican might not have as easy a time dismissing the challenge in office as GOP candidates do on the campaign trail.

Speaking to reporters in Paris on Tuesday, where he and other world leaders have gathered for a global summit on climate change hosted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Obama said the United States should lead the world in addressing climate change.

"American leadership involves not just playing to American constituency back home, but you now are in fact at the center of what happens around the world. And that your credibility and America's ability to influence events depends on taking seriously what other countries care about," Obama said.

He said world leaders are "taking climate change really seriously. They think it's a really big problem. It spans political parties."

But he noted that the international consensus among scientists does not extend to Republicans in the United States, saying, "sometimes it may be hard for Republicans to support" his climate change policy, which calls for cutting carbon emissions and stepping up use of alternative fuels like wind and solar.

Republican presidential hopefuls lashed out at Obama in response. In a post on Instagram, Donald Trump said, "While the world is in turmoil and falling apart in so many different ways, especially with ISIS, our president is worried about global warming. What a ridiculous situation." Trump also told a Sirius radio host that the president only wants to talk about climate change, adding "We're like the dummies that everyone laughs at."

Trump wasn't alone in accusing Obama of an excessive attention to climate change. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina told conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham that the Obama is focusing on climate change at the expense of other concerns.

"I watched much of his press conference, and his passion comes when he's talking about climate change," Fiorina said. "He has no passion when he's talking about defeating our real enemy, which is ISIS."

Speaking in Knoxville, Tenn., Ohio Gov. John Kasich struck a similar note. He said if he were president, he would attend the climate change summit, but "I'd be spending my time trying to build a coalition to fight ISIS. It seems as though they're a lot more passionate at this point about climate change than they are the real problem that faces us today."

Kasich said he believes human activity does influence the climate, "but to what degree we don't know."

During a campaign swing through Iowa, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said he was "uncertain" about whether he would have attended the Paris climate summit.

Bush said he worries that proposals to scale back activities that result in climate change could hurt "people who are really struggling right now."

On MSNBC Tuesday morning, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie acknowledged that "we cannot say that our activity doesn't contribute to changing the climate," but added, "The climate's been changing forever, and it will always change."

Asked to respond to the fact that the globe's temperature has been seeing record-setting years for decades, Christie said, "I don't buy the fact that it's a crisis. I just don't."

"That's my feeling," Christie said. "I don't see evidence that it's a crisis."

Speaking in New Hampshire, Christie pivoted from climate change to the racial and political climate in the United States. He said Obama is "struggling mightily to be relevant in a dangerous world, and he's focused on the wrong climate. ... Quite frankly, there's more tension in the climate between the races in this country seven years after Barack Obama was elected than before."

Asked about his views on climate change by Fox News on Monday night, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio made a similar statement. Rubio said the climate "has always been changing ... and what percentage of that is due to man's activity is not something there is a consensus on."

That's despite the fact that an international panel of experts agreed with 95 percent confidence that most global warming is caused by humans. Scientific groups, including the American Geophysical Union, have urged prompt action to address climate change.

Rubio said proposed changes aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions "would do nothing to change our climate, especially in the United States, but would have a dramatic impact on our economy."

Regarding Obama's statement earlier this year that climate change is the "greatest threat" facing future generations, Rubio disagreed. Rubio said the greatest threat is the national debt and "a national security apparatus in this country that continues to deteriorate at a time when the world is growing more dangerous."

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee have also used the Paris talks this week as an occasion to criticize Obama. Cruz told Iowans that Obama "apparently thinks having an SUV in your driveway is more dangerous than a bunch of terrorists trying to blow up the world." Huckabee dismissed him as the "meteorologist-in-chief" and tweeted that the president thinks "engines and sunburns are a greater threat to America than Islamic terrorism."

A couple of Republican candidates, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and former New York Gov. George Pataki, have called for taking climate change seriously. But given their standing at the bottom of the polls, that doesn't appear to be a winning position with the Republican base.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.