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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Environmentalists Misuse GOP Quote

The League of Conservation Voters misuses a quote by a Republican congressman to portray him as “extreme” on climate change.

The environmental group quotes Rep. Rodney Davis in a TV ad as saying “global warming has stopped 16 years ago.” But the Illinois freshman actually said, “They say that global warming has stopped 16 years ago.” He went on to say, “But climate change is real.”

The TV ad, titled “Sixteen Years Ago,” is part of a nearly $2 million ad campaign targeting four Republican members of Congress for their views on climate change. About halfway into the ad, the narrator says, “Congressman Davis is so extreme that he denies climate change science, suggesting” — and then Davis is heard saying — “global warming has stopped 16 years ago.”

On the screen, viewers see “Congressman Davis. ‘Global Warming Stopped 16 Years Ago.’ ”

That’s not what Davis said. The quote is lifted from an October 2012 radio interview that Davis did on a call-in show with Illinois Public Media during last year’s congressional campaign. Here is a partial transcript of an exchange between Davis and a caller named “Bob” (starts at about the 42:15 mark):

Bob: I have a question about climate change. The scientific consensus about climate change has been strengthening over the last decade. The forecast, which of course depend on what we do, show that the climate of Illinois will become more like Oklahoma and Texas over this century than what we’re used to, and droughts will become more common. I’m just wondering what your plan on dealing with climate change is.

Davis: Ironically, if you listen to recent reports, they say that global warming has stopped 16 years ago —

Bob: That’s absolutely wrong.

Davis: Yeah, I was just about —

Bob: You are absolutely off base —

Davis: Hey, Bob, Bob, I was just about to make a comment that I would love to see more stats than what’s just been reported on a couple stations. But climate change is real. The debate is over whether or not it’s man-made or natural, and what can we do about it. The key is —

Bob: We have a Nobel Prize winner here at the University of Illinois. I suggest you call him up.

Davis: OK. Great.

As the transcript makes clear, Davis said, “They say that global warming has stopped 16 years ago,” but the edited version leaves out the words “they say that.” The fact that Davis made a reference at all to “recent reports” about global warming stopping (reports that had been widely debunked by climate scientists) obviously troubled the caller, who cut off Davis’ response. But Davis did not say he agreed with those who say climate change had stopped, and, in fact, he said “climate change is real,” when given the chance to resume speaking.

He also did not express an opinion in the radio interview on whether climate change is man-made, although he acknowledges that there is a debate about it. So does Davis deny that climate change is caused by human activity? Well, that same month the News-Gazette published a candidate questionnaire, and one of the questions that Davis answered was on climate change:

Question: Do you believe in climate change/global warming, and if so would you vote for legislation that would mandate reductions in levels of global warming pollution by 2020 or 2025?

Davis: Many factors contribute to changes in climate, both man-made and natural. Regardless of your views on global warming, we should all agree that reducing our dependence on foreign oil and cutting air pollution without doing economic harm to our citizens will benefit our national security, environment and public health.

We couldn’t find any instances of Davis denying that climate change exists or that man isn’t at least partially to blame for it. We asked the League of Conservation Voters for such evidence, but the group’s response didn’t include any more information. We also contacted Davis’ congressional office and asked if Davis believes that climate change is caused by man. His spokesman, Andrew Flach, told us: “It is one of the contributing factors, yes, but to what extent is open to debate and further research.”

Flach’s response is no doubt unsatisfactory to those, including the League of Conservation Voters, who want Congress to act immediately on climate change based on the scientific evidence. As we have written before, the National Academy of Sciences published a paper in 2010 that found 97 percent to 98 percent of climate researchers “most actively publishing in the field” agreed that climate change was occurring. And the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in a 2007 report that human activity is “very likely” the cause of “most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century.”

There also is no question that Davis, a Republican, opposes environmental regulations that he views as anti-business — including those aimed at reducing greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. That, too, rankles the League. The TV ad says Davis “even opposes common sense efforts to reduce carbon pollution.” That’s a reference to an amendment Davis supported earlier this month that would require Congress to approve any regulations to tax carbon emissions. The sponsor of the amendment, Rep. Steve Scalise, said it was in response to President Obama’s climate change speech in which the president proposed bypassing Congress by using his executive powers and taking regulatory steps to reduce the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

We take no position on whether Davis’ views on climate change are “extreme” or if the president has a “common sense” plan. But the League of Conservation Voters went too far when it edited an audio clip of Davis to make it sound as if he said something that he didn’t.

— Eugene Kiely

Update, Aug. 16: We originally wrote that we did not receive a response from the League of Conservation Voters. The group did send us an email that wasn’t successfully delivered to our inbox.