Let's Try to Make Sense of DC's Deafening Climate Silence (Videos)
The debates are over, and we can assume campaign messaging is pretty much locked in as we head down the home stretch. And, as you're well aware by now, talk of climate is nowhere to be found. For the first time since the 80s, the issue didn't even come up in the debates. After a year of record heat and drought, nobody is going to discuss climate change.
So, at this point, it's worth sussing out why. Chris Hayes has a pretty sharp take:
So does the Climate Desk's Chris Mooney:
The causes of this glaring omission are complex, and it's not as though one group alone is responsible. First, there are the journalists who have moderated the debates, and who have been repeatedly lobbied to talk about climate—to no avail. Their presumed attitudes are perhaps best captured in the words of debate two moderator Candy Crowley, who relegated climate to the status of a kind of groupie issue when she afterwards remarked, "I had that question for all of you climate change people." She just didn't have time to get to it, she explained.And finally, PBS offers this commentary in a teaser for its longer investigation into the issue, Climate of Doubt:
But then, neither did the candidates, despite their regular on-air clashes over energy policy ... In truth, the attitudes of the candidates' strategists towards the climate issue, and towards science policy in general, may be quite similar to those of moderators Crowley, Lehrer, and Schieffer. "I've talked to political operatives, and they think science is a boutique issue, like changing to the metric system or something," says Shawn Otto, the CEO of the nonprofit group ScienceDebate.org, which focuses on trying to inject discussions of science-based issues into presidential and other campaigns. "They don't see votes in it."
Watch John Hockenberry on How Skeptics Changed the Politics of Climate Change on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.
Each of the explanations for the climate silence this election cover similar territory:
1. Politicians, pundits, and operatives view climate change as a boutique issue—one that engages just a small subset of voters, and one that can be written off without any great political consequence.
2. Climate has effectively been driven to that status by the conservative elements of the Republican party, who have cast climate change itself as a liberal, tax-increasing phenomenon.
Spurred on by fossil fuel interests and a skeptical rightwing punditry, they've created an environment where even so much as acknowledging the problem can get a congressman shouted down by Limbaugh or attacked by Fox News or booted out of his job. Climate has long become a strictly Democratic concern, and even then, the intensity of the opposition is enough to make pols think twice before wading in.
Now, many more people believe in climate change than don't—it's just that the political and financial power is concentrated on the wrong side of the equation; oil and coal execs, talk radio hosts, Fox News and fossil fuel company lobbyists carry more weight on the Hill than the Sierra Club, student activist groups, and the fact that a majority of the nation has an ambiguous desire to somehow tackle global warming.
Finally, there are still plenty of coal miners in swing states like Ohio who view climate change as something of an existential threat.
All that being the case, Obama was plenty happy to stay mum and to ruffle fewer feathers; Romney was practically obligated to, lest he beckon another round of tongue-lashings as he did when he admitted climate change existed during the primaries.
But ultimately, I see climate silence as a failure of the mainstream media; a politico-media complex too enthralled by the story lines pitched to them by the campaigns to force either to address an infinitely pressing issue that falls outside its comfort zone. There were no efforts at all to examine the candidates' positions on climate policy in light of the record drought and heat temps, to press either for substantive answers. Climate silence is a product of failed leadership, to be sure, but also of our professional information gatherers and storytellers.