With just 2 1/2 weeks left before election day, there’s an urgency on all fronts in the presidential race. For activists, it’s not just about whether President Obama or Mitt Romney will win, but whether either man will pay attention to their issue.
Perhaps no interest community has been as disappointed as those who worry about global climate change. They have repeatedly called for more attention to the issue and, for the most part, failed to get it.
This week’s presidential debate prompted a new round of regret and demands for Romney and Obama to address the topic, as both candidates spent their most notable time arguing about how much coal they would extract from federal lands.
“Both President Obama and Gov. Romney maintained the silence on climate, again ignoring the growing roster of extreme climate-change induced weather events,” said Maura Cowley, executive director of a consortium of youth-oriented groups called the Energy Action Coalition. “As young voters, and the generation with the most to lose if we don’t address the climate crisis now, we demand both candidates break the silence on climate change by standing up to big oil and gas with ambitious plans for clean energy.”
The activist philosopher Noam Chomsky chastised both parties in a recent article for an inadequate response on the issue. “In a rare instance of bipartisanship,” he wrote, “both parties demand that we make the problem worse.”
Romney’s website doesn’t specifically address the subject of climate change. Under the heading of “regulation,” it does disdain “the Obama administration’s war on carbon dioxide.” Obama’s site does tend to climate change, citing more efficient fuel economy standards for cars as the administration’s most noteworthy achievement.
The subject got a much more full-throated airing four years ago.
"I have disagreed strongly with the Bush administration on this issue,” Republican nominee John McCain said in a debate with then-Sen. Barack Obama. “I traveled all over the world looking at the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, Joe Lieberman and I. And I introduced the first legislation, and we forced votes on it. That's the good news, my friends. The bad news is we lost. But we kept the debate going, and we kept this issue to -- to posing to Americans the danger that climate change poses."
McCain went on to express concern about handing “our children and our grandchildren a damaged planet.”
(That sort of rhetoric would have been hard to imagine in 2012 from any of the Republican primary candidates, some of whom were still expressing doubts about the role of human activity in causing global temperature increases.)
Obama spoke extensively in 2008 about the fuel crisis presenting an opportunity to switch to new, cleaner technologies. He spoke of a “new energy economy” that could create 5 million new jobs over 10 years.
Like a lot of other issues, that goal had been subsumed by 2012 by the country’s economic malaise and political realities in Washington. Obama had pledged to pass a cap-and-trade system to reduce air pollution. The government would auction off permits for each metric ton of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, released. Obama projected that would bring in $15 billion in extra revenue a year, to be invested in clean-energy technology that would help produce those new jobs. But Congress wouldn’t approve cap-and-trade, killing a funding source that was expected to create those new jobs.
While Obama still talks about clean fuel technologies, he has learned the same lesson he has confronted on other issues — the reality of governing can often shoot down big ambitions.
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