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Sarah Palin backs away from climate denial

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AP Photo/ABC, Donna Svennik

(Read caption) In this image released by ABC, news anchor Charles Gibson talks to Republican vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin in Fairbanks, Alaska, in an interview Thursday. They walked beside a section of the Alaska Pipeline (on the right).

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In an interview with ABC News anchor Charlie Gibson Thursday, Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said that climate change can be at least partly attributed to human activity, an apparent reversal from statements published just weeks ago.

Here's how the exchange went (as transcribed by me):

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Mr. Gibson: "Do you still believe that global warming is not man-made?"

Governor Palin: "I believe that man's activities certainly can be contributing to the issue of global warming, climate change. Here in Alaska, the only Arctic state in our Union, of course, we see the effects of climate change more so than any other area, with ice pack melting. Regardless, though, of the reason for climate change – whether it's entirely, wholly caused by man's activities or is part of the cyclical nature of our planet, the warming and the cooling trends – regardless of that, John McCain and I agree that we got to do something about it, and we have to make sure that we're doing all we can to cut down on pollution."

Gibson: "But it's a critical point, as to whether this is manmade. He says it is. You have said in the past it's not.

Palin: "The debate on that even really has evolved into, 'OK, here's where we are now: Scientists do show us that there are changes in climate. Things are getting warmer. Now, what do we do about it?' John McCain and I are going to be working on what we do.

Gibson:  "Yes, but isn't it critical as to whether or not it's manmade? Because what you do about it depends on whether it's manmade."

Palin: "That's why I'm attributing some of man's activities to potentially causing some of the changes in the climate right now."

Gibson: "But I – color me a cynic – but I hear a little bit of change in your policy there. When you say 'Yes,' now, you’re beginning to say it is manmade. Sounds to me like you're adapting your position to Senator McCain's."

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Palin: "I think you are a cynic, because show me where I've ever said there's absolute proof that nothing that man has ever conducted or engaged in has had any effect or no effect on climate change."

(You can watch the exchange here on ABC News's site; they begin talking about climate change about 30 seconds into the clip.)

Palin's statements are at odds with her responses in an interview she gave with the conservative magazine Newsmax for their September 2008 issue. Newsmax writer Mike Coppock asked Palin, "What is your take on global warming and how is it affecting our country?" Palin responded, "A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I'm not one though who would attribute it to being manmade."

Additionally, the Associated Press cites a December 2007 story from the Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner in which Palin states: "I'm not an Al Gore, doom-and-gloom environmentalist blaming the changes in our climate on human activity."

ABC News's Jake Tapper comes right out and calls Palin a flip-flopper, but for others it's not so clear-cut. For Los Angeles Times blogger Don Frederick, it comes down to what the definition of "is" is. Mr. Frederick notes that the governor said "man's activities certainly can be contributing." She didn't say "are contributing." He also notes that Palin said that human activity is "potentially causing some of the changes." To Frederick, Palin has left herself with some "wiggle room."

But semantics aside, it's clear that Palin is dialing back her climate-denying rhetoric.

If Palin does, in fact, believe that human activity is contributing to global warming, this belief is at odds with that of an overwhelming majority of her fellow Republicans. According to a Pew survey in May, only 27 percent of Republicans believe that global warming is caused by humans, compared with 58 percent of Democrats and 47 percent of the population as a whole.

Such a belief would, however, bring her more in line with Senator McCain, who has long backed Congressional efforts to curb climate change. Back in 2004, writer and leading climate activist Bill McKibben called the Arizona Senator "Washington's most important champion of global warming legislation."