At the debate, listen for the climate silence
When the candidates face off in today’s debate, every word they utter will be scrutinized for gaffe-ability, flip-floppiness, and sound-bite-ification. But when it comes to climate change, it’s what they aren’t saying that deserves our undivided attention. Even with the urgent reality of global warming rapidly outpacing scientific predictions, both candidates have been disturbingly silent about the two central facts of this immediate, massive, and unprecedented problem.
Fact No. 1: Climate change is already wreaking havoc in the U.S.
In the past four years, Americans have been struck by a barrage of climate-fueled disasters. From record heat waves to increasingly powerful storms, harvest-destroying droughts to unprecedented flooding, the impacts of climate change are now squarely being felt within our borders. But neither candidate has “connected the dots” in clear, straightforward language. Obama’s reluctance has been particularly notable: In recent speeches about Hurricane Irene, the Colorado wildfires, and this summer’s drought, the president made no mention of how climate change is exacerbating these “natural” disasters. This is a huge missed opportunity, as polls show that increasingly, extreme weather is (finally) convincing many Americans that climate change is upon us.
Fact No. 2: To avoid catastrophic warming, we have to keep 80 percent of known coal, oil, and gas reserves in the ground.
The “terrifying new math” of global warming, to borrow Bill McKibben’s powerful phrase, means we need an immediate and massive shift away from fossil fuels. But neither candidate is coming close to calling for such a transition. Instead, both have consolidated their talking points around a vacuous all-of-the-above energy policy that not only won’t slow climate change, but will actually speed the process up. Is there anything more Orwellian than hearing Obama acknowledge the reality of climate change in the same speech in which he promotes clean coal and 100 years of natural gas?
It wasn’t always this way. In the months after his election, Obama spoke powerfully about the realities of climate change and the need for action. And throughout 2008 and 2009, the president regularly called for large-scale legislative action. While Mitt Romney’s climate rhetoric never reached those heights, he has not always hewed so closely to the current Republican platform of climate denial. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney acknowledged the reality of climate change and even briefly signed on to a regional agreement to reduce greenhouse gas regulations.
Undoubtedly the “political realists” running the two campaigns have decided that talking about climate change is a political loser. And to help affirm that conventional wisdom, fossil fuel companies are pouring millions into this election to reaffirm our nation’s desperate need for oil, gas, and coal. But even so, it appears that voters haven’t gotten the memo. A recent survey [PDF] by the highly respected Yale Center on Climate Change Communication found that undecided voters — the ones on which the entire election is supposed to turn — tend to believe that global warming is happening and is caused by humans. They also want the next president and Congress to do more on the issue. Yet while Romney and Obama claim to be fighting tooth and nail for this magic middle, neither is willing to answer its climate concerns.
Since neither moral imperative nor political calculation has led the candidates to speak up, Forecast the Facts is joining with Friends of the Earth Action to help voters take matters into our own hands through a new campaign at ClimateSilence.org. We launched the site with two goals in mind. First, we wanted to chronicle the candidates’ collective descent toward mute acceptance of global calamity, to show just how far our national climate conversation has fallen. Second, and more importantly, ClimateSilence.org provides an opportunity for Americans concerned about the climate crisis to speak out and let the candidates know that they want to hear real, meaningful proposals about how our nation can respond.
People across political parties disagree on many things, but most concur that the job of the president is to explain threats to the public welfare and lead the country in tackling them head-on, especially when those threats put the very survival of our nation at risk. That is what Republican Abraham Lincoln did when he confronted a nation at war with itself. It’s what Democrat Franklin Roosevelt did when he rallied a nation beset by crushing economic collapse. Now, ClimateSilence.org is mobilizing voters to demand that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney follow suit on climate change. If you are one of the millions who recognize the urgency of real climate solutions, please add your voice to our call. Then keep an ear out for what the candidates don’t say on Wednesday night. If they aren’t talking about how climate change is impacting our country, if they’re ignoring the urgent need to shift away from fossil fuels, if they’re not offering a real plan to slow global warming — that’s climate silence. These days it’s disturbingly easy to hear, once you start listening.
Get Grist in your inbox