Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Conspiracy of silence: The irresponsible politics of climate change

In a summer dominated by heat waves and a devastating nationwide drought, it would seem that climate change would be a major issue in the US presidential campaign. However, quite the opposite is happening. Neither President Barack Obama nor the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, has focused any attention on this critical issue. In a recent speech on the Senate floor, Senator John Kerry characterized the political discourse in the United States as a "conspiracy of silence … a story of disgraceful denial, back-pedaling, and delay that has brought us perilously close to a climate change catastrophe." This silence means that we can expect further delays in addressing climate change, delays that we cannot afford.

Presidential politics. Both presidential campaigns have ignored climate change on their web sites. The Romney site advocates vigorous energy development of coal, gas, oil, and nuclear power. Obama's site focuses on an "all of the above" energy strategy, which advocates the development of all energy sources, including "clean" coal and alternative energy. The statements by the candidates echo this approach.

Romney, at one time, believed in climate change. In his 2010 book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, Romney wrote: "I believe that climate change is occurring -- the reduction in the size of global ice caps is hard to ignore. I also believe that human activity is a contributing factor. I am uncertain how much of the warming, however, is attributable to factors out of our control." Even this lukewarm statement blurred as the presidential primary contest heated up and opposition to climate change became a litmus test for Republican presidential candidates. At a January 2012 campaign event in Pittsburgh, Romney was uncertain regarding the cause of global climate change: "My view is that we don't know what's causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us."

President Obama has seemingly forgotten about climate change. As recently as Earth Day 2011, Obama was forthright about the need to address climate change: "Today, our world faces the major global environmental challenge of a changing climate. Our entire planet must address this problem because no nation, however larger or small, wealthy or poor, can escape the impact of climate change." Now Obama cannot even say the words "climate change." In his 2012 Earth Day address, he coupled auto efficiency standards with "reducing greenhouse gas emissions," but Obama made no mention of climate change or why emissions should be reduced. In a major address on energy one month later, Obama omitted any reference to climate change, greenhouse gases, or even air pollution. More