The 2012 presidential debate series is set to start next week, with Obama and Romney to intellectually spar on what debate moderators think are the pressing issues of the campaign.
Most of these won't have anything to do with the environment in any detail, though perhaps a puffball question on climate will make it into one of them and energy policy will certainly be addressed (with a likely focus on that great distraction of energy independence).
To be fair, there are plenty of issues of the table apart from environmental ones. But considering the seriousness of climate change, our energy usage, our utter lack of public transportation infrastructure in the US, and a plethora of equally pressing issues—addressing all of which goes directly towards helping American families, despite what the Romney campaign would like you to believe—it's a shame that these issues probably won't be gone into with the diligence, seriousness and detail they deserve.
So, in that spirit, if I was moderating a special presidential debate on environmental issues here's what I'd start by asking:
- Given the forecasts for sea level rise over the coming decades, and the increased risk from natural disasters this brings to our coastal communities and several of the nation's largest cities, what would you have the federal government due to help states and cities prepare for rising seas?
Current proposals for an international climate agreement mandate emissions reductions that many climate scientists say are insufficient to mitigate the problem; how would you have the United States participate in a future international climate agreement and what is your view on the current state of talks?
A majority of economists in general and all ecological economists call the failure to price carbon a market distortion, and addressing this would level the playing field for a host of technologies; what method of pricing carbon would your administration favor: cap-and-trade, a fee-and-dividend approach, a carbon tax, something else?
The US military and intelligence agencies have been consistently warning that climate change has the potential to be a particularly strong destabilizing force in multiple areas of the world; how would you direct the military and intelligence community to prepare for this? Would preparing for climate-change induced conflict be a priority for your administration?
Similarly, numerous reports highlight the security risks arising as the Arctic melts, as nations and corporations equally (US ones included) vie for newly accessible resources; what would your administration propose to ensure that resource competition doesn't become resource conflict, and how would you regulate oil exploration so that the environment of the Arctic and the communities dependent upon it aren't hurt?
Another with a military connection: The US military has been increasingly supportive of efforts to expand its use of renewable energy, both domestically and in overseas operations, yet Congress has recently attempted to curtail this, second-guessing military leaders; what would be your administration's policy towards military requisition of, deployment of, and research into renewable energy technology?
A recent European Union report found that shale gas drilling using hydraulic fracturing technology created a high risk to human health and the environment, due to potential for water contamination and other factors; how would your administration regulate the fracking industry on a national level, or would you leave such regulation to the states?
NASA climatologist James Hansen has said that exploitation of the Canadian tar sands means "game over" for the climate, due to the massive amount of stored carbon contained in this unconventional fossil fuel source, yet both Governor Romney and President Obama have essentially giving support for efforts to expand its importation into the United States. What's your position on increasing use of unconventional fossil fuels such as tar sands?
When you look around the world numerous countries have stated specific renewable energy goals, using different time frames. For example, India aims for 20 GW of new solar power over the next decade; Scotland is trying for 100% renewable power by 2025; Denmark wants 50% of its electricity by 2020; several small island states are on track to be 100% renewably powered soon. What sort of national renewable energy target would your administration propose?
Half a century ago the federal government was instrumental in creating the interstate highway system, with the national rail infrastructure languishing in the intervening time and the United States far trailing Europe, China and Japan in high-speed rail development. What sort of role do you think high-speed rail and other railway revitalization efforts have in the future of US transport, and how should the federal government support this?
Similarly, electric cars are widely seen as the future of individual motorized transport, yet they are currently limited in part by lack of charging infrastructure; what role do you think the federal government should have in ensuring that motorists have as frequent opportunity to charge electric vehicles as they now have in filling their cars with gasoline?
- The United States remains one of just two major industrialized nations in the world that does not mandate the labeling of genetically modified ingredients, even as surveys show an overwhelming majority of Americans would support labeling; do you believe GM ingredients should be labeled? If yes, should such labeling be left to the states? If no, why shouldn't they be labeled?
What environment questions would you like the presidential debate moderators to ask? Leave them in the comments.