October 3rd will be the first televised debate between President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Several groups are reaching out to the evening’s moderator, Jim Lehrer, asking for the inclusion of a question about environmental policy and climate change. Along with Mom’s Clean Air Force, other groups are urging Lehrer to challenge the candidates to be forthcoming about their positions on “global warming” and the country’s “energy future.” The groups also spearheading the initiative include the League of Conservation Voters, the Environmental Defense Fund, and The Climate Reality Project.
A summer of wildfires and record-breaking temperatures has begun to penetrate the barrier of denial around the fact that there is an issue at hand. Despite a plethora of comments refuting the possibility of climate change in the blogosphere, many Americans are beginning to ask questions—seeking clarification.
Perhaps this is why Romney and Obama realize how volatile the subject is.
While I was live Tweeting both conventions, it was difficult not to intuit the differences in attitude between the two parties. This was reflected in the respective statements of each candidate.
Romney posited, “President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans—and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.” Creating an either or scenario pitting the economy against the environment, Romney delivered the comment with sarcasm to a laughing crowd.
Obama noted in his acceptance speech that “climate change is not a hoax.” He was preceded by numerous speakers stressing the importance of protecting both the country’s natural resources and the planet, including Vice-President Biden.
I looked at both campaign websites to see what was posted in terms of formal policy statements.
Romney doesn’t have a page that is “environment” specific. Rather, he has an “Energy” declaration with the tagline, “Pro-Jobs, Pro-Market, Pro-American.” He qualifies Obama’s failure as being “in thrall to the environmentalist lobby and its dogmas,” while waging a “war against oil and coal.” Romney supports streamlining regulations, and has bullet-pointed the need to amend the Clean Air Act to “exclude carbon dioxide from its purview.”
Obama has an “Energy” and “Environment” category. He presents his record as “supporting clean energy and the environment.” He specifically underscores the premise of “making sure we never have to choose between protecting the environment and strengthening our economy.” He reiterates his belief that “energy independence” can come from investing in “clean energy jobs.”
There is plenty of information out there that provide a snapshot of where both men stand on the environment. But nothing will get the attention of the nation as prominently as embedding a query framed within the scope of the Domestic Policy showdown in the first head-to-head meeting between Obama and Romney.
In the past decade, science has taken some hard knocks in the American discourse, from evolution to global warming.
I spoke with Michael Halpern, the Scientific Integrity Program Manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an organization founded in 1969 to promote “action based on the best possible science.” Halpern emphasized the need for voters to have an informed understanding of the science behind pressing concerns facing America, so that the country can “move forward on creating solutions to difficult challenges.” He observed that politicians frequently dodge issues on all sides when it is not “politically palpable,” shaping science to “fit policy goals.” He pointed out that currently, “politics makes it difficult to acknowledge scientific interests.” Halpern told me, “Candidates need to discuss how to mitigate the effects of drought, rising sea-level, stronger storms, and other effects of climate change.”
There are plenty of specifics for Lehrer to address during the first debate. He can point to the exorbitant amount of money that is being contributed to the Romney campaign from the oil and coal industries, recently covered in the New York Times article “Fossil Fuel Industry Ads Dominate TV Campaign,” and inquire how that impacts Romney’s policy. On the jobs front, he may want to drill down on layoffs due to a lack of resolution around the Production Tax Credit—which grants federal tax credits to those who build and own wind farms.
For President Obama, there is an opportunity to pin down exactly where he stands on “natural gas” proposals, the future of the Keystone XL Pipeline Project, offshore drilling, and what he means by the phrase “clean coal.”
Our children deserve “real” clean energy to address the climate crisis. Let’s hope the Presidential Candidates move the conversation forward and discuss global warming.