Climate Change is Absent from the Presidential Debates for the First Time Since the 80s

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All four major debates have come and gone, and our leaders and would-be leaders have now officially neglected to mention that greatest of looming crises we humanfolk face today. Not Obama, not Romney, not Biden nor Ryan made a global warming-related peep in any of their face-offs. But at least we know they all really, really, seriously won't let Iran get a nuclear bomb.

Brad Johnson points out that it's the first time since 1984—nearly a full quarter century—since a full presidential debate cycle has concluded without any discussion of climate change taking place at all.

And in 1984, American citizens weren't reeling from a year where drought consumed more than half the nation, temperatures records were smashed across the country, and extreme heat withered our crop yields. That would be 2012. But climate silence prevailed; no semblance of dialogue was raised at any point over the year by either presidential campaign. Which was, by this point, unsurprising.

Romney's climate policy ideas have long been held in thrall to the anti-regulation, global warming-doubting elements of the GOP that were energized in 2010; he's stayed mum on the issue to appease the Tea Party without alienating climate science-tolerating moderates. Obama, on the other hand, chose to embrace the cynical conventional beltway wisdom that climate change is a losing political issue, about which the less is said the better.

So: four full discussions of domestic and foreign policy all bereft of any allusion to the single greatest force standing to impact both.

Instead, this time, we saw an understated slugfest over Iran and Israel, China and Libya. It was a pretty tedious debate; Obama was hawkish and reminded everyone that he killed Osama bin Laden, and Mitt Romney was hawkish and reminded everyone that he would do most of the stuff Obama did, just a little bit better and sooner. They haggled over Israel; Romney said he wasn't friendly enough, Obama said he was too. Drones? Romney's for 'em. The dubious insta-polls gave it to Obama; CNN's by 48%-40% CBS's by 53%-28%.

Romney made a single nod to a climate solution, to clean energy: "We’re going to have North American energy independence," he said. "We’re going to do it by taking full advantage of oil, coal, gas, nuclear and our renewables."

That was it; it was tucked in behind all those fossil fuels, so you might have missed it. Obama made but two brief ones:

1. "We've cut our oil imports to the lowest level in two decades because we've developed oil and natural gas, but we also have to develop clean energy technologies that will allow us to cut our exports in half by 2020. That's the kind of leadership that we need to show."

2. "... if we're not making investments in education and basic research, which is not something that the private sector is doing at a sufficient pace right now and has never done, then we will lose the lead in things like clean energy technology."

Both fairly full-throated support for cleantech, which is smart; renewable energy is a wedge issue in swing states like Iowa, Colorado, and Ohio. Voters want more of it, the GOP doesn't. Romney also aimed a quick round of jabs at Solyndra, Tesla, and Fisker:

We're going to have to have a president, however, that doesn't think that somehow the government investing in — in car companies like Tesla and — and Fisker, making electric battery cars — this is not research, Mr. President. These are the government investing in companies, investing in Solyndra. This is a company. This isn't basic research.

Romney did say he was in favor of funding more research; just not private companies.

All told, the net result was a feeble, even craven debacle. Climate change is going to transform the lives of just about everyone who sat through these debates, and billions more will be impacted by American climate policy — or more likely, a continued lack thereof. There is arguably nothing more important to American foreign policy in the long-term than hashing out a coherent strategy for dealing with global warming. And yet, our noses are shoved in Iran and China; fear the bomb, fear the planned economy. This quote from David Atkins, and enshrined by sums the whole disgrace up pretty well:


Climate Change is Absent from the Presidential Debates for the First Time Since the 80s
All four major debates have come and gone, and our leaders and would-be leaders have neglected to even mention the most urgent issue we face today.

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