Is Jon Huntsman Stupid?

Published June 13, 2011

Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah running for the Republican nomination for President of the United States, recently made this unfortunate comment during an interview with Time magaine’s Melinda Henneberger:

“[Climate change] is an issue that ought to be answered by the scientific community; I’m not a meteorologist. All I know is 90 percent of the scientists say climate change is occurring. If 90 percent of the oncological community said something was causing cancer we’d listen to them. I respect science and the professionals behind the science so I tend to think it’s better left to the science community—though we can debate what that means for the energy and transportation sectors.”

This sort of loose talk about climate change is common among Democrats, who see in the controversy a way to justify higher taxes on “the rich” and punishing the corporations they think are destroying America. They have no reason to think critically about the issue, because to do so would take away a powerful popular myth that supports their legislative agenda. But from a Republican who ought to know better? Not so common.

A Meaningless Statement
The statement that “90 percent of the scientists say climate change is occurring” is correct. Climate is always changing, sometimes quickly and dramatically, more usually slowly. But the next statement, comparing it to “90 percent of the oncological community [saying] something was causing cancer,” indicates the speaker is confused about the meaning of the first, or deliberately conflating two very different claims.

The first statement is meaningless in the current context of the debate over whether human activity is a major cause of climate change and what, if it is so, ought to be done about it. Why utter it, and especially why follow it with a statement about the cause of a deadly scourge, unless you want to deliberately mislead people into thinking that you support the hypothesis of manmade climate change? And if you are a Republican, why would you want to do that? Are you just stupid?

Mythical Consensus
There is no scientific consensus on the causes, extent, or likely future direction of climate change. Surveys show deep disagreement on the basic science of the issue. The sources that many scientists once relied on to support an uninformed opinion that manmade global warming was a problem, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have been discredited. Even alarmists admit there has been no warming during the past decade despite rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

And don’t even get me started on the lack of consensus about what to do about it. Prescriptions range from Al Gore’s calls for banning the internal combustion engine to Robert Carter’s call for modest investment in preparing for likely natural variations in climate. Genuine experts such as Dennis Avery and Craig Idso say we should probably prepare for record crop yields and prolonged human longevity brought about by a warmer and CO2-rich world.

If Huntsman wants to be taken seriously as a Republican candidate for anything above dogcatcher, he needs to do his homework on climate change.

Joseph L. Bast ([email protected]) is president of The Heartland Institute.