Opinion: I Guess Climate Change is Fixed, Since Neither Campaign is Talking About it

Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - 11:01 AM

For the first election in decades, climate change did not make an appearance in any of the presidential debates. President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney gave a spirited effort at convincing Americans who would be a better Commander-in-Chief for the challenges we've already been facing. However, the complete absence throughout the debates of any discussion of this truly global threat that requires genuine international action means we have very little sense of who will be the visionary leader for the future.

The moderators of all the debates can share some of the blame for skipping over the issue of global climate change. In truth, though, the moderators did a reasonable job of asking questions that reflected the campaign's major issues, not steering the discourse in new directions. If they didn't ask about the environmental threats our world is facing, it's because nobody - from either side of the two party duopoly - has spent made such themes part of the national conversation.

As a result, American voters won't get to hear the differences between these two candidates - and there are significant differences. Romney's biggest laugh line in his convention address was mocking Obama's 2008 nomination speech for discussing rising sea levels. Throughout the Republican primary, candidates like Romney needed to distance themselves from reasonable, science-based stances to appeal to the Tea Party right.

For their part, the Obama Administration did not make action on carbon reduction a major legislative push, and intervened when its own EPA head tried to take proactive steps. However, from gas mileage improvements in the auto industry to investment in alternative energy, the incumbent showed some willingness to take the right steps. In blocking the Keystone pipeline (at least temporarily) the Administration also gave climate activists hope: there is someone listening in the White House who, with sufficient advocacy, can be convinced.

The American people aren't the only ones who miss out due to the lack of discussion. The global community loses as well. Meaningful action can't come from one country or another - it needs to be a global, integrated approach. It requires allies, compromises and commitment. President Obama embraces those values when discussing nuclear non-proliferation, anti-terrorism or sanctions on Iran. But he - and American - are needed as leaders on climate change. Without America's participation, international action will be weak. Without America's leadership, the necessary international coalition just won't exist.

In discussing the Arab Spring, Iranian posturing, the withdrawal from Iraq and the quagmire in Afghanistan, Obama showed himself a capable and thoughtful leader, and a superior choice to Mitt Romney in facing the challenges of the past few years. He probably also convinced many Americans that he would have been a better commander-in-chief over the past decade, when the Bush/Cheney team engineered a number of the problems the Obama/Biden crew inherited.

The irony, though, is that Obama made a big point in the debate of arguing that he didn't want to be a commander-in-chief for the past, but a leader for the future. His most memorable lines - the now famous "horses and bayonets" as well as the jab that the 1980s were calling and wanted their foreign policy back - lampooned Romney's outdated worldview.

Maybe Romney lives in the distant past, but President Obama needs to be careful not to plant himself in the recent past. Because it's great to have a President with wise hindsight. But we need a leader who also has clear foresight. And without knowing what either man would do to lead the world in combating climate change, the future looks cloudy at best.


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Comments [5] from Israel

Even when we've had the warmest summer in decades, they aren't interested, the public has moved on. Talking about climate is like talking about a new thing called the internet. Its so 1999.

Nov. 23 2012 01:55 AM

The moderators as they often do actually did Obama a favor by not talking about the weather.
The public should be reminded about Solyndra, the denial of the XL Pipeline and the back door efforts to enact Cap and Trade which will have a hugely negative impact on an already suffering economy.

"..Bush/Cheney team engineered a number of the problems the Obama/Biden crew inherited.."

Does that include the hard fought legal and military challenges as well as controversial intel that led to OBL which is the one thing Obama/Biden do not claim to have inherited from Bush/Cheney?

Sometimes hackneyed and sophist talking points have thorns of reality.

Oct. 24 2012 01:44 PM
klem from Chicago

The reason the subject has not been mentioned in the debates is because it is political poison. The public is saturated, they are suffering climate fatigue. It has been rammed down everyone's throat for years now, they don't want to hear about it anymore.

Even when we've had the warmest summer in decades, they aren't interested, the public has moved on. Talking about climate is like talking about a new thing called the internet. Its so 1999.

Besides, climate alarmism is a dead religion.


Oct. 24 2012 10:07 AM

I have to disagree with cmon. 70% of Americans believe the climate is being changed by human activity, compared to 58% only four years ago. We have been feeling it all summer. The economic impact was much larger than it has been in a long time. The increasingly variable conditions of our environment have not gone unnoticed by Americans.

I propose an alternative theory. It's not that people don't care, but rather this has become a staring contest between the two parties. As I pointed out, people are being convinced, which means more people are worrying about it. What the parties are afraid of is the dramatically changing landscape. The Democrats were losing an uphill battle for many years convincing people of global warming. But now, when you have a growing number of conservatives to believe it, I think they are afraid to court the issue because they don't want to lose any ground. Just as well, Republicans are afraid of the issue because still 30% of the country doesn't believe it, and they largely make up the far right the Republicans have sold themselves out to.

I think ultimately the Dems will be first out of the gate on this issue--after the election. If Obama wins, it will likely be right after the fact. If he doesn't, Democrats are going to rally behind the economic issues already heavily discussed and spend a lot of time holding their ground on social issues and Obamacare, likely leaving the environmental issue to the Senatorial races in 2014.

Oct. 23 2012 12:49 PM

I'm sure you're well aware of this before you wrote the article; you sound like a smart guy
but I'm going to have to put it to you again:

If Obama talks about Climate Change in these debates, then the people will elect Romney.
At some point you have to acknowledge the state of affairs in this country. The people don't care.

If YOU care, then you'd do well to mention Obama's vast accomplishments re climate change despite total opposition in the House on every single step.
By ignoring this truth, you do nothing to further the venue of people like Obama who are the only ones doing anything about this problem.

It's your choice.

Oct. 23 2012 12:15 PM

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