Nothing in Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech better encapsulated the spinelessness of his presidential candidacy than the following line: “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”

This was a sneering reference to Obama’s statement before a St. Paul, Minn. crowd, after he became the presumptive nominee in June 2008, that “if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when ... the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”

Romney’s dig has received little commentary, other than the observation that this was a swipe at Obama’s supposed rhetorical grandiosity. But of course it was primarily a snicker at the idea that anything can or should be done to reverse climate change. Romney’s own views on climate change are, well, a little hard to pin down. A little more than a year ago, at a campaign appearance in New Hampshire, Romney said:

I believe the world is getting warmer. I can’t prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer. And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that. I don’t know how much our contribution is to that, because I know there have been periods of greater heat and warmth in the past, but I believe that we 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.

Indeed, as TNR’s Alec MacGillis has demonstrated, as Massachusetts governor Romney was a “smart growth” advocate who, after his lieutenant governor called for suspending the state’s gas tax during a 2006 price spike, said, “I don’t think that now is the time, and I’m not sure there will be the right time, for us to encourage the use of more gasoline.” By this past October, though, Romney was saying, “We don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.” Perhaps he'd been speaking to his press secretary, Andrea Saul, who previously represented climate-change “skeptics” hired by energy companies.

Romney has become reluctant to say that human activity causes global warming, and even in his greener days he was always somewhat cagey about which remedies he’d support. Now Romney is saying that anyone who would seek any remedy at all is, by definition, a fool. It’s a clear pander to the flat-earthers who believe climate change is a hoax, one that stops just short of agreeing with them. The gesture’s nihilism is contemptible.