On TV today, Chris Christie got the requisite question about his future, and he gave the requisite response: “You never know what life is going to bring you.” But we don’t need peek-a-boo wordplay to confirm that he’s running for president. We need only note his craven pandering to the Republican right on the issue of climate change.
And today, the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, is the perfect time to track the…how shall I put this delicately…the rightward evolution of his rhetoric.
I understand Christie’s dilemma. He’s jonesing for the brass ring, but there’s no way he can get near the Republican nomination without first mollifying the party’s motley collection of loons, trolls, radicals, and reality deniers. And for a northeastern governor from a blue state, that daunting task begins with a Mitt-style flip-flop on climate change. Christie has to show the denizens of The Base that he’s just as willfully clueless as they are about science.
So here’s how the game works:
Back in June 2011, Christie endorsed common sense. In his words, “when you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who have studied this, stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role, it’s time to defer to the experts.”
Oh dear. That was a foot-in-mouth no-no. There’s no way a Republican can laud “scientists” and “experts” and expect to compete for a presidential nomination. Straight talk about the reality of climate change is guaranteed to get you booed off the debate stage. Therefore, it is imperative that the sinning straight-talker make amends with some major rhetorical tweaking.
Fast forward to 2013, and the aftermath of Sandy. In February, when somebody asked Christie whether climate change was real (because, as we know, climate change has made storms more frequent and more intense), he dodged the question and said he had no time for such “esoteric” topics.
That alone signaled Christie’s impending pander; to get in sync with the Republican right, one must first dismiss as “esoteric” the substantive evidence of what’s happening around us. Two years ago, in fact, a federal government report specifically warned coastal states that increased steps should be taken to protect transit systems because “climate change impacts are here and will increase in the future,” triggering more severe hurricanes and far heavier precipitation. New York City heeded this report, and prepared for severity; as a result, only 19 of its 8000 transit cars were reportedly flooded during Sandy. By contrast, New Jersey Transit (with its three-page emergency plan) parked its transit cars in an area vulnerable to flooding. Hundreds were reportedly engulfed.
Anyway, this past February, Christie dismissed the climate change issue as “esoteric.” And in May, he went further. When he was asked whether he had instructed stage agencies to prepare for climate change, he said: “I don’t agree with the premise of your question because I don’t think there’s been any proof thus far that Sandy was caused by climate change.”
That’s a classic right-wing dodge, scoring high on the pander meter. Of course there’s no cause-and-effect proof that specifically links Sandy to climate change – just as there’s no proof that a specific lung cancer patient’s disease was specifically triggered by his cigarette smoking. Yet we all recognize the scientific consensus about cigarettes and cancer, the aggregate link. It’s the same deal with climate change, in the aggregate. As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said after Sandy (in contrast to what Christie is saying), “Part of learning from this is the recognition that climate change is a reality, extreme weather is a reality, it is a reality that we are vulnerable.”
Christie’s new-found cluelessness about climate change – “a scientific discussion and debate that I’m currently not engaged in” – might be a savvy partisan move, but it’s not great for his own state. Unlike the governors of nearby New York, Delaware, and Maryland – all of whom are heeding the scientific warnings about fast-rising sea levels; all of whom insist that rebuilt coastal houses be positioned at least two feet higher off the ground than the federal requirement – Christie is the proverbial ostrich.
Which is a shame for coastal Jersey, because the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration now says that more devastating storms are likely. I yield the floor to those “esoteric” scientists: “Climate-change related increases in sea level have nearly doubled today’s annual probability of a Sandy-level flood recurrence, as compared to 1950. Ongoing natural and human-induced forcing of sea level ensures that Sandy-level inundation events will occur more frequently in the future from storms with less intensity and lower storm surge than Sandy.” (Cue troll attacks on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.)
But hey, Christie is still gung-ho for Jersey, right? After all, he really likes Springsteen.
Problem is, right now he likes his career even more.
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