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Jeb Bush Came So Close to Acknowledging Climate Change

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

At an event in New Hampshire on Friday, presidential hopeful Jeb Bush did something exceedingly rare for a Republican to do these days: openly acknowledge carbon pollution. 

"The climate is changing, and I’m concerned about that," Bush said. With those words, he may be distancing himself from his fellow GOP presidential hopefuls, who sound like loons on the problem. Bush offered a caveat, though, saying he is more worried "about the hollowing out of our country, the hollowing out of our industrial core, the hollowing out of our ability to compete in an increasingly competitive world."

The comments are only significant as far as it hints that Bush may be forming a more moderate position on climate change. Bush has straddled a vague position on climate change, at times openly questioning the science and at others recognizing the issue. In 2011, he described himself as a skeptic, saying "it is not unanimous among scientists that it is disproportionately man-made.”

Bush ended up endorsing perhaps the most politically safe plan for climate action he could find: The natural gas boom, which has lowered the nation’s dependence on coal, but the methane it is made up of is its own risk to climate change. "We need to restore our competitive posture, which I think our energy revolution will allow us to do," he said, "and then simultaneously […] be cognizant of the fact that we have this climate change issue and we need to work with the rest of the world to negotiate a way to reduce carbon emissions."

It's too early to appoint Bush as the reasonable, moderate Republican in a primary of science deniers. Numerous other Republicans, as well as Hillary Clinton and President Obama, have all endorsed natural gas production as an answer to coal. That makes it hard to take Bush seriously on climate change action; he needs an actual plan for reducing reliance on fossil fuels, including natural gas. It will be more interesting to see how much further Bush takes this.