With Florida’s southwestern coast facing a difficult recovery from Hurricane Ian, environmental issues have advanced to the forefront of the state’s U.S. Senate race.
Democratic Rep. Val Demings blasted her opponent, Republican incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio, for snubbing the idea of climate change for years.
“Marco has denied climate change and refuses to deal with the issues that affect our environment,” Demings said in a Sept. 23 tweet. “Florida deserves better.”
Generally, climate change refers to shifts in temperatures and weather patterns driven largely by humans and their burning of fossil fuels. The connection between climate change and hurricanes is complicated and involves ongoing research, PolitiFact reported.
Rubio’s past skepticism of climate change science is well-documented.
When a liberal group in 2013 said Rubio is “a climate change denier,” we rated the statement Mostly True. The caveat was that some of Rubio’s remarks about climate change bordered on skepticism rather than outright denial.
But Rubio’s stance has shifted in recent years. Since 2018, Rubio has said Earth’s climate is changing and humans, to some degree, have contributed to the changes.
Rubio questioned the notion of climate change numerous times
Rubio’s position on climate change seemed ambiguous before he set his sights on national office. As Florida House speaker in 2007, for example, Rubio referenced the existence of global warming and embraced energy diversification.
“Global warming, dependence on foreign sources of fuel, and capitalism have come together to create opportunities for us that were unimaginable just a few short years ago,” Rubio said in a speech to state legislators. “Florida has the opportunity to pursue bold energy policies, not just because they’re good for our environment, but because people can actually make money doing it.”
At the time, Rubio didn’t outright acknowledge humans’ impact on the environment. By 2009, as he launched his bid for U.S. Senate, Rubio began questioning whether humans caused climate change.
Asked about human impact on the climate in 2009, Rubio told the Miami Herald: “I’m not a scientist. I’m not qualified to make that decision. There’s a significant scientific dispute about that.”
Rubio took his firmest stance against the concept that people can affect the environment in 2010, telling the Tampa Tribune ahead of the election that he didn’t “think there’s the scientific evidence to justify it.”
He won that election and has served in the U.S. Senate for more than a decade. Throughout his early years in Congress, Rubio opposed environmental legislation spearheaded by former President Barack Obama.
“I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it,” he said on ABC News’ “This Week” in 2014. “And I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it. Except it will destroy our economy.”
Get insights into Florida politics
Subscribe to our free Buzz newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
We rated Rubio’s claim about human activity not contributing to climate change False. At other times, Rubio skirted the question without outright denying the human role.
“Sure, the climate is changing,” Rubio said at a Republican presidential debate on March 10, 2016. “There was never a time when the climate was not changing.” At the debate, he did not acknowledge human contribution to climate change.
Rubio acknowledged humans’ role in climate change in 2018
By 2018, Rubio began saying in public remarks that humans, to some degree, have contributed to climate change. His comments came after Hurricane Michael devastated the Florida Panhandle and drew national media attention.
In an interview with CBS’ John Dickerson, Rubio said: “My view is climate, sea-level rise, these are measurable things. You can measure that. So there, it’s not even a scientific debate at some point, it’s just a reality debate.”
Dickerson pressed Rubio further on whether he thought humans were the chief contributor to climate change, to which Rubio said, “That’s what a lot of scientists say.” But Rubio noted that a few scientists “dispute what percentage” can be attributed to humans.
PolitiFact has examined similar attempts to minimize humans’ role in climate change. We found that increased levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases can cause the Earth to warm. Humans have increased the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by nearly 50% since 1750, according to NASA.
Rubio’s campaign also pointed to two op-eds Rubio wrote for USA Today in 2019. In the first op-ed, he acknowledged that “Earth’s climate is changing.” In the second op-ed, he encouraged “proactive adaptation,” which he said “could reduce damage caused by climate change.”
He also joined the bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus in February 2020. “Changes in our climate, such as the rise of sea levels, are measurable facts,” Rubio said in a news release. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to find real and responsible solutions in a bipartisan way.”
Democrats and environmentalists have criticized Rubio’s actions as “greenwashing” — meaning he says he supports solutions to climate change but rejects measures that would make the most impact, such as reducing carbon emissions through cap and trade. Meanwhile, Rubio has criticized Democrats’ approach to climate change as an excuse for bad policies.
Demings said Rubio “has denied climate change.”
For about a decade, Rubio denied or downplayed humans’ role in changing or worsening the climate. In recent years, he has acknowledged that humans contribute to climate change.
He isn’t on board with Democratic plans to respond to the crisis, but he has shown more interest in what he calls “responsible solutions” to climate-related issues such as rising sea levels.
Demings’ claim leaves out the details of Rubio’s current position. We rate it Half True.