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Trump’s Likely VPs All Have Different Bad Ideas About Climate

Though not, perhaps, the bad ideas you might expect.

Donald Trump and VP contenders.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Donald Trump will announce his running mate any day now, and according to multiple reports his choice has come down to Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Ohio Senator J. D. Vance, and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum. All erstwhile critics of Trump, they now share a fervent admiration for the former president they once scorned. But where do they stand on climate change?

Opinions on climate within the Republican Party are complex, and these three men reflect the divisions. According to Pew Research Center polls, 47% of Republicans over the age of 65 believe that human activity contributes a great deal or some to climate change, but a full 79% of Republicans under 30 think so. Yet only a tiny number of them feel any urgency around climate: In a Pew poll earlier this year, only 12% of Republicans said climate should be a top priority for the president and Congress, the lowest score of the 20 issues they asked about. (59% of Democrats said it should be a top priority.)

That leaves room for Republican politicians to take a variety of positions, as long as they agree that the ideas favored by climate hawks are bad. For many, the optimal position is a kind of malign neglect: They’ll admit that warming temperatures are bad, but somehow find their way to opposing all measures to address the problem. With one partial exception, that describes all of Trump’s likeliest running mates.

Doug Burgum

Burgum can be a little tough to pin down on climate, in large part because of how he shrewdly avoids talking about the issue in the culture-war terms so many in his party prefer. At the start of his second term he set a target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 — but without regulation or any reduction in fossil fuel production. Instead, Burgum wants the state to become a center for carbon capture, calling the room underground to store large amounts of carbon the state’s “geologic jackpot.”

As part of that project, Burgum has advocated the construction of a pipeline to carry CO2 into the state from other Midwest states, which he touts as simply a money-making proposition. “This has nothing to do with climate change,” he said in March. “This has to do with markets.” He has touted environmental, social, and governance-related investing, which focuses on companies with strong environmental records, as an opportunity for the state to lure capital — but has also joined with other Republican governors to condemn it.

Burgum has close ties with the oil industry, so much so that he has become Trump’s key liaison to the industry and its billionaire magnates; he has also been mentioned as a possible energy secretary if he is not Trump’s running mate, which would make him the administration’s chief fossil fuel advocate.

In other words, Burgum seems to be on multiple sides of the climate issue. He’s a fossil-fuel promoter and critic of electric vehicles who wants to make his state carbon neutral. And you will look in vain for any statement where Burgum says exactly what kind of threat he believes climate change poses, or even if he thinks it is happening at all; in technocratic style, he shifts any question on the issue to economic and practical concerns.

Marco Rubio

With its frequent hurricanes and dramatic sea level rise, Florida sees direct and repeated effects of climate change as much as any state in the country. Yet it took Marco Rubio many years to arrive at his current position: In the early part of his career he was a clear climate denier, but lately he has taken something more like the prevailing Republican view, which is that while climate change is happening and human activity may be contributing to it, we shouldn’t actually do much about it. At the very least, we shouldn’t do anything that comes with even the smallest cost in dollars or convenience.

During his first run for Senate in 2010, Rubio said, “The climate is always changing” — a common dodge among climate deniers, used to make them sound like they aren’t completely oblivious while they refuse to acknowledge the causes and consequences of post-industrialization warming. But “I don't think there's the scientific evidence to justify” the idea that humans have anything to do with it, he added.

He continued to hold that position for years. “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it,” he said in 2014. But over time, Rubio became less hesitant about admitting the reality of warming, even if he steered away from talking about the cause. He proposed modest measures to increase climate resilience, while always pairing them with attacks on more aggressive action as an attempt by leftist radicals to destroy the economy.

Today, Rubio is a member of the bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus, which has occasional meetings but steers away from taking any positions on particular legislation or regulations, making it mostly a way for senators to say “I care” without committing themselves to action.

J. D. Vance

When Vance talks about climate, it’s in the terms of a culture warrior, heaping contempt on liberals and their goals for a safer and cleaner environment. His 2022 Senate campaign against Democrat Tim Ryan featured substantial discussion of climate issues, with Vance regularly condemning efforts to reduce emissions and lamenting the decline of coal. “All of this ‘bring American manufacturing back’ from the Democrats is fake unless we stop the green energy fantasy,” he tweeted that July. “Solar panels can’t power a modern manufacturing economy. That’s why the Chinese are building coal power plants, something Tim Ryan’s donors won’t let America do.”

“If you want to make our environment more clean, the way to do it is to invest in Ohio natural gas,” he’s said. Or as he told Fox News, “The obsession Democrats have with eliminating fossil fuels is crazy.”

Like Trump, Vance has emphasized his loathing for electric vehicles. “Even if there was a climate crisis, I don’t know how the way to solve it is to buy more Chinese manufactured electric vehicles,” he said on a radio show in 2022 in response to the EV incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act (which in fact requires that to qualify for subsidies vehicles must be mostly American-made with domestic materials; the requirements are complicated, but no Chinese vehicles qualify). “The whole EV thing is a scam, right?”

Always attuned to the value of a PR stunt, Vance introduced a bill he called the “Consequences for Climate Vandals Act,” meant to crack down on the scourge of climate activists throwing soup on paintings. Fox News was pleased, but the bill went nowhere, leaving America dangerously vulnerable to art-based climate protests.

This is the common thread running through Vance’s comments on climate: Unlike Rubio, who may have no choice but to discuss the effects of warming given the state he represents, Vance almost never mentions these effects. He turns any discussion of climate into an attack on liberals, environmentalists, and Democrats for their supposedly ruinous ideas to address the problem. If Burgum’s response to climate is Can we make money off this? and Rubio’s is It’s serious, but let’s not be hasty, Vance’s could be summed up as Go to hell, libs.

No matter who Trump picks, his vice president is unlikely to be anything but the most tentative voice of reason in the administration’s climate policy, even in the best of circumstances. None of these three has given us much reason to think he would risk his own position by standing in the way of what will no doubt be a determined effort to remove regulations on the fossil fuel industry, undo the carrot-based approach of the Biden administration to encouraging a green transition, and generally let the emissions rip. Or even that they’d want to.

Paul Waldman profile image

Paul Waldman

Paul Waldman is an MSNBC columnist, co-host of the Boundary Issues podcast, and author of The Cross Section, a newsletter about politics. His latest book is White Rural Rage: The Threat to American Democracy.


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