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PORTSIDE  October 2012, Week 4

PORTSIDE October 2012, Week 4

Subject:

Why Won’t Obama or Romney Talk Climate Change?

From:

Portside Moderator <[log in to unmask]>

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Date:

Wed, 24 Oct 2012 21:55:59 -0400

Content-Type:

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (147 lines)

Why Won’t Obama or Romney Talk Climate Change?

By Sarah Laskow 
The New Republic
October 24, 2012
http://www.tnr.com/blog/plank/109084/why-wont-obama-or-romney-talk-climate-change

When the 1980s called on Monday to ask Mitt Romney for
their foreign policy back, they might have also asked
for a word about climate change. The subject did not
come up in any of 2012’s presidential or vice
presidential debates for the first time since 1988,
when, months after climate scientist James Hansen first
testified before Congress about the dangers of
greenhouse gases, the vice-presidential debate
moderator noted that the country had just lived through
“one of the hottest summers it can remember.” Damage
from that summer’s drought would make it the costliest
in American history, and 1988 was on track to be one of
the hottest years on record.

It felt, in other words, a lot like 2012, a year in
which crops have fallen to the worst drought since 1956
and rising temperatures have all but guaranteed that
these 12 months will go down as the hottest calendar
year on record. (1988 barely rates anymore: of the ten
hottest years on record, only one, 1998, was in the
20th century.) Any one of the four debate moderators
this year could have lifted verbatim the question
moderator Jon Margolis asked in 1988, opening with the
summer’s heat, explaining that climate change “could,
in a couple of generations, threaten our descendants’
comfort and health and perhaps even their existence”
and asking the candidates, “What would you urge our
governments to do to deal with this problem?”

Neither the moderators nor the candidates felt the need
to throw a bone to, in Candy Crowley’s words, “you
climate change people.” While it’s disappointing enough
that, despite an untoward amount of begging and
groveling from environmental groups, climate change
wasn’t mentioned, it might have been more unnerving to
hear how little progress politicians have made in
figuring out what to do about it.

In 1988, in response to Margolis’ question, Sen. Lloyd
Bentsen, the Democratic nominee for vice president,
listed three strategies: use “a lot more natural gas,”
look for alternative energy sources, and turn corn into
ethanol. That is, more or less, what President Obama
has been touting as an “all-of-the-above” energy
strategy (although if pressed, he would probably allow
that instead of turning corn into ethanol, it might be
preferable to try algae or switchgrass).

Support thought-provoking, quality journalism. Join The
New Republic for $3.99/month.

Still, neither Obama nor Romney should have needed a
moderator’s prompting to raise the issue. They spent
more than enough time talking about clean energy: it
came up in the first debate as part of the rambling
discussion on deficit and tax breaks, and in the town
hall debate, Obama made a graceful pivot from the
inevitable question about gas prices to his work to
update fuel efficiency standards, a strong policy that
has the potential to decrease carbon emissions, while
keeping consumer spending on gas from rising ever
upwards. Neither candidate, though, bothered to mention
that energy extraction is also an environmental issue.

But why would they? For both candidates, work on
climate policy has led only to political dead ends. As
governor, Romney did get excited, at one point, about
the Northeast’s regional cap-and-trade initiative, only
to step back in anticipation of his move to
presidential politics. President Obama was supposed to
help make 2009’s Copenhagen climate talks worthwhile;
he managed only to salvage them from complete disaster
at the very last minute. Cap-and-trade—a policy idea
lifted from the Republican Party, meant to be something
resembling a bipartisan initiative—fell apart. The
Obama administration has been reduced to sneaking
policies directly targeting climate change through the
Environmental Protection Agency, and Obama would rather
talk about wind energy than capping emissions at coal-
fired power plants. Clean energy sounds exciting and
win votes. Environmental regulation does not.

Politically problematic policies like cap-and-trade,
though, are still some of the stronger strategies out
there for dealing with climate change. America can burn
all the natural gas it wants; if surplus coal goes
straight into European power plants, global greenhouse
gas emissions will still rise. International
negotiations might just be necessary to bringing them
down. American businesses still need to find some way
to dump less carbon pollution into the atmosphere, and
although the regulations the Obama administration is
putting in place will help, regional cap-and-trade
initiatives like the one in the Northeast are also
making a difference. By leaving climate change out of
the debates, both candidates are conceding that they
don’t have any better ideas.

Boosting clean energy will help some on the climate
front, but not enough to keep droughts like the one
this summer from becoming more common and sea levels
from rising. These impacts are economic, as well as
environmental: this summer’s terrible crop yields, for
instance, mean that food prices could go up, pulling at
household budgets. Soon enough, presidential candidates
will have to field questions about the newest ideas for
combating climate change—geoengineering, for instance.
These are strategies that would have governments fix
the climate by pumping chemicals into the sky, turning
it white to reflect the sun’s energy back into space,
or pouring iron into the ocean in order to stimulate
the growth of carbon-dioxide trapping plant life. These
aren’t better ideas than the ones languishing in policy
purgatory now, but without action now, they’ll start
looking more and more appealing. Even advocates of
these ideas think they’re risky enough to be a little
bit nutty, but if politicians avoid dealing with
climate change, there might not be any better choices
left. Source URL:
http://www.tnr.com/blog/plank/109084/why-wont-obama-or-
romney-talk-climate-change

___________________________________________

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