Romney's remarks this week about climate change don't have to be the death knell for his candidacy, but his subsequent actions seem to indicate that he has a strong death wish.
"All" he said was that he believes that human CO2 has contributed to the likely-measured increase in temperature in the last century. That's all he said. Now, in my opinion the science is not at all clear on this front. And as a guy with a degree in science who had to research and write a thesis a very long time ago, I react viscerally to the politicization of climate science by the left. But you and I probably agree on all that, and Romney has probably calculated that we'd vote for him anyway, so his remarks were most likely to show the establishment that he's not one of us crazy conservatives.
I think he can still have it all ways on this issue, even after what he said this week. To paraphrase Bjorn Lomberg, believing that humans have some role in global warming is not sufficient justification for cap and trade and other disruptive climate change remedies that the Left has proposed. Lomberg says the effects of warming will take a long time to occur, so in the meantime we should invest in R&D to find less expensive ways to deal with the changes. We don't have infinite wealth to solve the problem of global warming (or cooling, or whatever they call it now). There are more pressing problems to solve, and they will cost less to address.
So Romney should give a speech on climate change in which he can say-
1. Yes humans contribute to climate change, but-
2. The effects will take a long time to come about during which time we can adapt and find cheaper solutions, and
3. We need to address global warming within the context that we have to take into account the economic costs versus benefits, and
4. We need to recognize specifically that cap and tax, with any form of carbon trading, is both inefficient and in fact counterproductive. It's inefficient because carbon trading has proven to be fraud-ridden because it is nearly impossible to measure and enforce compliance, and the standards can be gamed. It's counterproductive because to the extent that the US imposes such standards on itself, then manufacturing will just go to dirtier places like China with the net result being GREATER pollution than before.
5. Any sort of international carbon trading and cap schemes are even more susceptible to fraud. Further, as envisioned in the past, they would impact the US very negatively while allowing most of the world's population (China, India, Brazil...) to pollute at will. And anyway any global, enforceable CO2 deal would represent a profound loss of sovereignty for the US and really is just another effort to send wealth from the US to... well, anywhere else.
6. We need to be realistic about the prospects for alternative forms of energy. Today we have the chance to greatly increase our own energy independence by increasing natural gas production, but instead the Left is trying to block this- as usual. We have found in the meantime that corn-based ethanol raises food prices while it is net-negative in terms of BTUs produced versus BTUs used. Solar energy is horribly inefficient today, as is wind power. It's too early to push these alternatives until they make economic sense.
In doing all this, Romney could make any number of appropriate criticisms of the Left. He could position himself as the guy who actually understands economics, which I think is where he is trying to be. He can seem "sensible" about climate change to the moderates while reassuring conservatives he wouldn't do anything stupidly statist. He could come up with a host of job-promoting proposals, such as support for improving our infrastructure for natural gas use. He could talk about the positive effect this would have on our trade balance and independence from the Middle East.
Will he give a speech like this? If he doesn't he'll lose my vote, because the issues of energy prices and the economic threat of cap and trade and over-regulation by the EPA and Obama are two of the big issues of our time.