Silence of the lambs

Iv’e been doing my best to avoid all coverage of – even mention of – the elections that are upon us.  I made the mistake of tuning in to the second debate (online) and I watched in astonishment as both candidates talked for many minutes about coal, oil, energy and oil prices without ever mentioning climate change! Arg!

And coal. Even promoting oil drilling isn’t enough anymore.

Why does coal matter? Because the increased reliance on coal for electric generation (mainly by China) is the main reason global emissions have increased over the last decade (graphs below are from the Carbon Budget 2010).

National elections should be a time when our nation considers the great challenges and opportunities the next President will face. But the climate conversation of 2012 has been defined by a deafening silence. The collective avoidance is so glaring that it’s received comment from media outlets across the political spectrum.

In 2008, both political parties nominated presidential candidates — Barack Obama and John McCain — who promised to address the climate crisis with mandatory caps on carbon pollution. Four years later, the arithmetic of climate change has become even more dire. Yet the rhetoric of the 2012 candidates has moved in the opposite direction. For President Obama, climate change has gone from an “urgent” challenge worthy of major speeches and comprehensive legislation, to an afterthought, fleetingly mentioned at occasional campaign events. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, has backpedaled from weak acknowledgement of the basic science to outright mockery of the carbon crisis. While there is clearly a difference between these two positions, neither come anywhere near the honesty and leadership that the problem demands. -  from climatesilence.org

Both candidates clearly know climate change is real, that greenhouse gas emissions are the cause, and that it is a giant threat to, well, everything that an American President ought to care about.  Both Obama and Romney have moved progressively towards climate silence, i.e., cowardice towards confronting the challenge of our time.  What they fear is the electoral college. According to the WaPost:

For all their disputes, President Obama and Mitt Romney agree that the world is warming and that humans are at least partly to blame. It remains wholly unclear what either of them plans to do about it.

Even after a year of record-smashing temperatures, drought and Arctic ice melt, none of the moderators of the four general-election debates asked about climate change, nor did either of the candidates broach the topic.

Throughout the campaign, Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney have seemed most intent on trying to outdo each other as lovers of coaloil and natural gas — the very fuels most responsible for rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Mr. Obama has supported broad climate change legislation, financed extensive clean energy projects and pushed new regulations to reduce global warming emissions from cars and power plants. But neither he nor Mr. Romney has laid out during the campaign a legislative or regulatory program to address the fundamental questions arising from one of the most vexing economic, environmental, political and humanitarian issues to face the planet. Should the United States cut its greenhouse gas emissions, and, if so, how far and how fast? Should fossil fuels be more heavily taxed? Should any form of clean energy be subsidized, and for how long? Should the United States lead international mitigation efforts? Should the nation pour billions of new dollars into basic energy research? Is the climate system so fraught with uncertainty that the rational response is to do nothing?

Many scientists and policy experts say the lack of a serious discussion of climate change in the presidential contest represents a lost opportunity to engage the public and to signal to the rest of the world American intentions for dealing with what is, by definition, a global problem that requires global cooperation.

“On climate change, the political discourse here is massively out of step with the rest of the world, but also with the citizens of this country,” said Andrew Steer, the president of the World Resources Institute and a former special envoy for climate change at the World Bank. “Polls show very clearly that two-thirds of Americans think this is a real problem and needs to be addressed.”

Mr. Steer noted that climate change was no longer a partisan issue in Europe and that China, Japan, Australia and South Korea had taken significant steps to reduce emissions and invest heavily in clean energy technology.

“The real question in this country,” said Mr. Steer, a British citizen, “is why politicians don’t see it as in their interest to discuss it.”

The list of reasons is long.  Any serious effort to address climate change will require a transformation of the nation’s system for producing and consuming energy and will, at least in the medium term, mean higher prices for fuel and electricity. Powerful incumbent industries — coal, oil, utilities — are threatened by such changes and have mounted a well-financed long-term campaign to sow doubt about climate change. The Koch brothers and others in the oil industry have underwritten advertising campaigns and grass-roots efforts to support like-minded candidates. And the Republican Party has essentially declared climate change a nonproblem. – read the rest of this great article by John Broder here

However, a recent study by the Center for Climate Change Communication (PDF) titled The Political Benefits of Taking a Pro-Climate Stand in 2012 found:

• A majority of all registered voters (55%) say they will consider candidates’ views on global warming when deciding how to vote.

• Among these climate change issue voters, large majorities believe global warming is happening and support action by the U.S. to reduce global warming, even if it has economic costs.

• Independents lean toward “climate action” and look more like Democrats than Republicans on the issue.

• A pro-climate action position wins votes among Democrats and Independents, and has little negative impact with Republican voters.

• Policies to reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels and promote renewable energy are favored by a majority of registered voters across party lines.

• These patterns are found nationally and among ten swing states.

Both campaigns clearly disagree and fear any mention of climate change.  As a mild Obama supporter, my thinking for several years has been that at best, he has a 50-50 shot at winning a second term, so he might as well speak relentlessly about this issue to bring it into the public sphere.  All my liberal friends tell me, it is all part of the plan.  Act like a right-of-center coal-lover, get re-elected, then double back and talk about global warming, enact a carbon tax, etc (i.e., pull a Romney).  I disagree because: A) he might loose and B) he needs congress to do anything meaningful about climate change and thus he needs to start lobbing the electorate – i.e., building a mandate by talking about it.

Leave a Reply