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Heather Taylor-Miesle Headshot

Hot Romney, Cold Romney

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Last Friday, Former Governor Mitt Romney confirmed once again that his political convictions are as variable as the weather. His positions on health care and collective bargaining have been blowing in the wind for some time. Now his stance on climate change has melted away.

Speaking in Pittsburgh, he told the crowd: "My view is that 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."

Only months ago, Romney said: "I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that...And 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 global warming that you're seeing."

Climate denials are a dime a dozen in this year's GOP race, but in the past, Romney has recognized the threat of global warming. But the past is rarely a prologue for Romney. Romney acknowledged climate change when he wanted to appeal to moderate voters, and he rejected it when he wanted to curry favor with the Tea Party.

These ever-changing positions could do some long-term damage to public health and the environment. It looks like the Mitt Romney who is trying to survive the GOP primary season is working against the Mitt Romney who could actually win the general election.

The next occupant of the White House will be decided by the voters in the middle, not the ones on either extreme. Most of them know climate change is real. A Reuters/Ipsos poll done in September found that the amount of Americans who believe the Earth is warming rose to 83 percent from last year's 75 percent. More than 70 percent of them believe think the warming is caused partly or mostly by humans.

Then Romney found himself in a race shaped by Tea Party extremism. Governor Rick Perry is a full-throated climate denier. His state is in the grip of the worst drought in nearly 100 years that together with the wildfires has costs Texas $5.2 billion in agricultural losses. But still Perry won't cry uncle. He refuses to acknowledge the climate change happening all around him.

Rather than providing a counterweight to Perry, Romney decided to join him in Denialville. As wacky as Perry's climate stance is, I think he actually believes it. Romney should know better. It's hard to imagine he's acting out of misguided conviction; this smacks of pandering.

Romney chose a funny week to walk back his stance on climate. Just days before, one of the staunchest climate skeptics publicly reversed his position in the Wall Street Journal. Physicist Richard Muller released a study--funded in part by the polluting Koch Brothers--saying that temperature data confirms the Earth is warming.

We already knew this. The National Academy of Science among others said in 2010: "Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risk."

Romney risks leaving the crowd behind. His experiments with extremism are making it hard for moderates to buy into the whole reason he is the front runner and not the Tea Party crasher. In the past when Romney's flip-flopped, he's just rejected his own policy positions; this time he's rejecting a scientific consensus.