The late, great New York senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, famously said, "You are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts." That sentiment, however wise, seems sadly quaint in an era when many Americans strongly prefer a "reality" that conforms to their opinion, not to objective facts.
A fresh case in point is Marco Rubio, the boyish Florida senator who is considered a serious contender for the U.S. presidency in 2016. Sunday, on ABC's "This Week," Mr. Rubio said, "I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it," adding that he also did "not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy."
Having thrown in his lot with the deniers of climate change on the weekend, by Tuesday he was tempering his remarks. During an appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Mr. Rubio was asked to cite what "information, reports, studies or otherwise" had led him to conclude human activity played no role in climate shifts. In response, the Republican senator failed to name any source to back up his skepticism and, instead, pulled back a bit from his earlier statement.
"I've never disputed that the climate is changing, and I've pointed out that climate to some extent is always changing, it's never static," Mr. Rubio said -- which is a bit like saying, "Gosh, I've noticed some days are dry and some are rainy." Not a keen insight.
He went on to suggest that he favors more efficient use of energy and development of alternative energy sources, but he could not support a ban of all coal and carbon emissions.
Of course, no one is proposing a total ban on any energy source. What climate scientists are suggesting is that it would be a very good thing to increase production of energy from non-carbon-based sources while sharply reducing the nation's reliance on fossil fuels that send CO2 into the atmosphere. It would be good, most scientists agree, because increased CO2 is changing the global climate, not in the gradual manner Rubio suggests, but in dramatic ways that are increasing the severity of storms, melting the polar ice, drying out agricultural lands, increasing the acidity of the oceans and raising sea levels to such an extent that, one day in the not-too-distant future,Mr. Rubio's hometown, Miami, and most of southern Florida will be under water.
A shift away from fossil fuels does not have to "destroy our economy," as Mr. Rubio says, echoing the propaganda of the oil and coal industries. Policies that reduce our CO2 output and build new alternative energy industries would, in fact, push the U.S. to the world economic forefront. Our economy would be modernized, not destroyed, and in the process the economic hit we are bound to take from the damage of climate extremes could be cushioned.
This isn't rocket science -- but it is science. Apparently, like too many of his fellow conservatives, Mr. Rubio would rather not listen to scientists when they say things that contradict the moronic fictions embraced by the hardcore base of the Republican Party or the PR of the fossil fuels industries. Mr. Rubio already got himself in trouble with right-wingers by talking sensibly about a sane immigration policy. He'll never get the GOP presidential nomination if he dares to accept the scientific facts about climate change.
Of course, if he ignores the hard truth and continues to just make things up, he doesn't really deserve to be president.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to latimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.