Is Romney warming up to global warming?

One of the very best days to bury real news is on the first day of a political convention, when the entire class of political reporters and commentators is collected in a single room and sealed off from the rest of the world. Yesterday’s news concerned global warming — an issue that neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama seems anxious to highlight.

Obama apparently believes it is among the most urgent and dangerous problems in the world — but not so urgent or dangerous to do much about it.  Recall Al Gore writing in Rolling Stone: “President Obama has thus far failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change. . . . After the House passed cap and trade, he did little to make passage in the Senate a priority.”

Romney leads a party that seems divided between climate change skeptics and militant climate change skeptics. Recall Rick Santorum at CPAC going after Romney as “someone who bought into man-made global warming and imposed the first carbon cap in the state of Massachusetts.” During the primary season, Romney played down his previous views on warming.

So Romney’s response to a questionnaire — prepared by Scientific American and ScienceDebate.org — is one interesting sign of the emergence of the post-primary candidate. Romney endorses the view “that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences.”  He accepts, in short, the consensus view of the National Academy of Sciences, while raising some questions about the pace of climate change and the extent of human contribution.

Romney goes on to say that cap-and-trade legislation is not the answer, since it only applies to the United States and not to the developing world, where the growth in carbon emissions is greatest.  The alternative, in his view, is a “no regrets” policy, in which this nation lowers emissions through new technology instead of regulations that impose a competitive disadvantage on the economy. 

As I’ve argued previously, there is a relationship between regulation and innovation. In controlling smog, for example, placing a cost on pollution helped spur technological solutions.  But Romney’s statement, on the whole, is encouraging.  It provides some basis for congressional activity on greenhouse gasses during a Romney administration, focused on “robust government funding for research on efficient, low-emissions technologies that will maintain American leadership in emerging industries.”  The questionnaire also indicates that Romney’s robust policy team is gaining the upper hand in internal campaign discussions. This type of seriousness and specificity provides at least a glimpse of a governing agenda.

Michael Gerson is a nationally syndicated columnist who appears twice weekly in The Post.

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