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What's Rand Paul's Position on Climate Change? It Depends on the Day.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Rand Paul has already taken a half-dozen different positions on climate change, all before he marked his first day officially campaigning for president. 

In January, he voted yes on a Republican-sponsored resolution that “human activity contributes to climate change.” But he doesn’t want to say human activity significantly contributes, since he voted no on a Democratic resolution that same day. A year ago, the Kentucky senator was less sure of climate change science. “Anybody who's ever studied any geology knows that over periods of time, long periods of time, that the climate changes, mmkay?” he said in April 2014. “I'm not sure anybody exactly knows why.” He seemed to dispute that scientists who spend their lives studying this know what they're doing. “We have real data [for] about 100 years,” he said. “So somebody tell me what 100 years data is in an Earth that is 4.6 billion years old? My guess is that the conclusions you make from that are not conclusive.”

It’s possible he has brushed up on his fifth-grade science since last year, which would suggest Paul's ideas of how to respond likewise could have matured. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. 

Just last month, Paul voted against Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s resolution stating that Congress has a responsibility to cut pollution behind manmade climate change.

Except this vote contradicts what an earlier Paul argued. He suggested in a November interview with HBO’s Bill Maher that he was open, in some form, to limited regulation. “All I ask for is that the solution has to be a balanced solution and that you have to account for jobs and jobs lost by regulation,” he said, adding the caveat that he doesn’t think “shutting down dramatically one form of energy is a good idea for an economy.” He then likened climate change science to a “religiosity.”

He may have been confused about greenhouse gas pollution that causes climate change with the air pollution that harms lungs. “I'm not against regulation,” Paul said. “I think the environment has been cleaned up dramatically through regulations on emissions as well as clean water over the last 40 or 50 years. But I don't want to shut down all forms of energy such that thousands and thousands of people lose jobs.”

Paul is certain of one thing: Climate change is too silly an issue to warrant a chief executive's attention. “I don’t think we really want a commander-in-chief who’s battling climate change instead of terrorism,” he said in response to comments made by Hillary Clinton in September. 

For now, the candidate’s views remain a muddle; his staff did not return a request to clarify his position. But his position is already better than many of his GOP opponents, which points more to the sad state of the Republican party than it does to Paul's presidential credentials.