If you care about global warming, you may have noticed the presidential candidates’ pronounced silence on the issue. This obvious omission of an important election-year topic has even spawned a website that tracks the candidates’ “slow, collective descent toward mute acceptance of global calamity.”
Serious students of public policy can find the candidates’ views of climate change, but they’ll have to dig a little deeper than in past elections. A recent article in Scientific American includes Romney and Obama’s responses to a set of questions from Minnesotan Shawn Otto, whose group ScienceDebate.org has worked to increase the respect of science in politics. Time magazine’s Mike Grunwald has asserted that actions speak louder than words, citing the White House’s doubling of fuel economy standards for cars and its historic investment in clean energy (documented in his new book, The New New Deal). But it’s undeniable that neither campaign is defending a strategy for a stronger economy with steadily declining reliance on fossil fuels.
Keep in mind that 1984 was the last year that global warming wasn’t mentioned in either the presidential or vice presidential debates. For a clear comparison to this year’s debates, watch a very direct question about climate change during the 1988 vice presidential debate. In fairness to Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, moderators haven’t been that direct, but there have been many energy-related exchanges. Each candidate has seemed eager to assure viewers that he’s the better friend to fossil fuels—with no mention of ramifications.
Just four years ago, action on climate was prominently featured in both John McCain and Barack Obama’s platforms. Why is global warming now off the table? An obvious assessment finds that economic issues have pushed global warming to the back burner. Pundits would highlight that highly partisan voters on both sides already have strong views on the topic, and that climate change isn’t a “top of mind” issue for undecided Americans in the final weeks.
Here’s a stronger indictment: a cottage industry of well-funded climate denial advocacy groups has been highly successful in intimidating politicians. On October 23, a PBS Frontline special called Climate of Doubt documented how a shadowy blend of nonprofit and political groups have deliberately created a political atmosphere where the most popular position on global warming is avoiding it altogether.
The program featured Representative Bob Inglis (R – South Carolina), a conservative Republican who lost his Congressional seat because he accepted and spoke of scientific reality. Also interviewed was the National Journal’s Coral Davenport, whose reporting last December about how climate change had become a toxic subject among Republican office holders inspired the Frontline report.
In addition to direct donations to candidates, campaign finance laws now allow unlimited anonymous individual and corporate expenditures through tax-exempt advocacy groups. These quasi-political groups aren’t subject to the same restrictions as political action committees (PACs), allowing them to raise an unlimited amount of corporate contributions that don’t need to be reported to the Federal Election Commission. These groups are often called “dark money PACs,” as there’s often little or no transparency about who is giving the money and how it’s being used. Additionally, these contributions don’t need to be reported to shareholders, so the amount of money changing hands between fossil-fuel interest groups and dark money PACs is anybody’s guess.
The results of this new climate of silence are plain, and both political parties have finally agreed with one aspect of Al Gore’s assessment from 2006: climate change really is inconvenient.
Wondering what you can do to make your opinions on climate change and energy heard?
- Make your vote count. All elections are important, and this year’s is no exception. Elected leaders will be making big decisions on energy over the next few years. Don’t pass up your chance to participate in this crucial process. In these final weeks of campaigning, familiarize yourself with candidates’ positions on global warming and energy on their websites, review the voting records of current legislators, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Finally, make sure to cast your vote on November 6.
- Make your voice heard. Following the election, unavoidable decisions related to climate change and energy will face our president and legislators. Unified and unrelenting pressure from concerned citizens may be the only way to reverse the rhetoric that has muzzled our legislators, convince them to accept scientific reality, and make wise bipartisan decisions that benefit our environment and economy.
- Attend a free clean energy, climate, and health forum. Fresh Energy is partnering with the Will Steger Foundation to host several free public forums on clean energy, climate, and health across Minnesota this fall. In cities across the state, polar explorer Will Steger, Fresh Energy’s J. Drake Hamilton, and local hosts will discuss how unabated climate change impacts Minnesota, what’s at stake for our state’s economy, and the steps we must take on our path to clean energy. Find out more.