Democratic National Convention on first night(Photo by Chris Keane / Reuters.)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There was a lot of energy at the Democratic convention Tuesday night — just not the kind you can power a house or a car with.

Michelle Obama, Julián Castro, Deval Patrick, and other headliners on the convention’s opening night had the audience and the pundits swooning. But none of the major speakers made even a passing reference to climate change or other green issues. The one prime-time speaker who mentioned environmental protection was Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, a one-time Republican gone rogue.

I hit up some delegates for their insights on the omission, starting with a Houstonian next to me in the nosebleed section of the Time Warner Cable Arena. Had she heard any commentary on climate and energy? Had I missed something? She looked at me blankly. “No,” she said. “I think that’s scheduled for another night.”

An environmental lawyer from Oklahoma City told me, “Nobody’s talking about the environment because it’s political suicide. Voters want jobs, and after Solyndra, you just can’t convince voters that cleantech will do anything but lose them.”

I sought the opinion of a hippie-looking woman a few rows down from me, who was carrying her sleeping infant in a sling. “Climate change is my No. 1 issue,” she said, “but I don’t begrudge Obama for burying it right now. It’s the only way he can get reelected.”

"recycle" and "compost" signsThe full extent of environmental signage at the DNC.
I scanned the crowds of thousands for the placards or paraphernalia of environmental activists, but the only green messaging I saw in the arena was the instructional signage above the recycling and compost bins.

At least I was bringing my own environmental ethics to the convention, biking to and from my fleabag motel on the edge of Charlotte. It had been falsely advertised on a booking website as being four miles from the heart of downtown, but it’s actually twice that far out, in a neighborhood that’s taken a heavy beating from the recession.

Charlotte is being touted as a “boomtown,” but during my bike commutes on Tuesday, I saw lots of small businesses that had been boarded up — hair salons, a cabinet maker, a bakery, a tuxedo rental shop. Neon lights advertised the businesses that were still getting by: liquor stores, pawn shops, laundromats, fast-food joints.

North Carolina as a whole has been hit hard by the recession, according to a recent report, with more than one in five state residents experiencing large economic losses in 2010.

As a coastal state, North Carolina also gets hit hard by hurricanes and flooding. On my rain-drenched ride back to the motel at the end of the night, it struck me as a sad irony that climate change is such a difficult issue to address among voters struggling, in an even more immediate way, to stay afloat.