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Romney mocked climate change and conservation. Really. That happened. In 2012.

A few weeks ago, the Southern Fried Scientist asked what plans (if any) Mitt Romney had regarding the U.S. National Ocean Policy. Last Thursday night, voters may have gotten our first clue. During the most widely-viewed and important political speech of his life, a speech widely criticized for lacking any kind of policy details, Romney mocked President Obama for trying to do something about sea level rise and the declining state of our environment.

He said, ““President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans…[big pause for audience laughter]… and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.” Check out the clip:

There are essentially two ways to interpret the remark and the audience’s reaction. This was one of the biggest laugh lines of the whole convention, so it may have been intended as harmless humor, but why did the audience find it funny? Remember this is the same audience that booed a gay soldier and called for a hypothetical uninsured cancer patient to die a few months ago.

1) Romney could be mocking Obama’s perceived overly-grand plans. In other words, “Obama is so full of himself and so convinced that big government is the solution to any problem that he’s trying to influence the whole planet, which obviously humans can’t do, isn’t he silly and out of touch?” Given the audience, it isn’t unreasonable to assume a Shimkus-like “only God can destroy the Earth” subtext. However, as anyone who is paying attention to the current state of climate science knows, humans are influencing the planet’s climate (including sea level) and government policies can stop this from happening. Incidentally, as Governor, Romney was once a supporter of the very cap and trade policies he mocks President Obama for, and as recently as June of 2011  stated,

“I believe the world is getting warmer… And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that… So I think it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you’re seeing.”

2) Romney could be claiming that Obama’s priorities are off. In other words, “sure, government policy could be used to reduce sea level rise and undo recent damage to our environment, but we should instead use government policy to help you and your family”. The claim that government could be used to help me and my family seems out of step with the rest of his campaign’s Ayn Rand “you didn’t build that” garbage, but even disregarding that, this interpretation is also concerning. Romney is perpetuating a long-standing claim that in order to protect the environment, jobs must be sacrificed. This is nonsense. Despite the high-profile bankruptcy of some green energy companies (I was thinking not of Solyndra, but Konarka, a Massachusetts-based solar company that then-Governor Romney supported), alternative energy companies will create lots of high-paying U.S.-based jobs while simultaneously reducing our impact on the environment. Also, allowing the environment to be destroyed doesn’t exactly help families… we sort of need it for food and water and such.

Regardless of what Governor Romney intended, it is clear that he has drastically altered his stance on environmental issues, presumably to appeal to the radical fringe that has dominated Republican politics lately. Many in the green movement are disappointed with President Obama’s handing of environmental issues (and other issues), but Mitt Romney can no longer be considered a centrist reasonable alternative.