Former President Clinton, in a panel discussion at the annual meeting of the former president's Clinton Global Initiative, put a challenge to Republican candidates who have questioned climate-change science.
Clinton was asked what those in attendance or watching the discussion online could do to affect change immediately, and urged those passionate about climate change to become politically active.
“If you’re an American, the best thing you can do is to make it politically unacceptable for people to engage in denial [of climate change]," Clinton said. “I mean, it makes us — we look like a joke, right? You can’t win the nomination of one of the major parties in the country if you admit that the scientists are right? That disqualifies you from doing it? You could really help us there."
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the front-runner in the Republican race, made headlines last month when he dismissed climate science as "a scientific theory that has not yet been proven." In his book, Fed Up, the governor wrote that climate change is “all one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight.”
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said late last month that he didn't know if global warming was "mostly caused by humans."
The vast majority of scientists believe the planet is warming in large part due to human activity, but the issue has become highly politicized among conservatives. Clinton said the state of the debate in the United States was "really tragic," and dismissed Republican doubts by saying that there was "enough evidence that it's patently absurd."
"We need the debate in America and every country between people who are a little bit to the right and people who are a little bit to the left about what the best way is to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, what is the best, most economical way to do it, what will get more done quicker,” he said.
He also tied action on global change to the economic crisis dominating the political landscape.
“If you want to save the planet, the best way to rebuke the global warmers is to be able to point to every single solitary community to a specific example where changing the way we produce and consume energy increased, not decreased, employment,” Clinton said.
The CGI annual meeting is being held this week in New York City and is drawing national and international political leaders. President Obama is scheduled to speak tomorrow.