In the final debate on Monday night, focused on foreign policy, moderator Bob Schieffer didn’t ask anything about energy or climate, but he posed a couple of open-ended questions that would have given easy entrée to either candidate had they any inclination to bring up the topic: “What is America’s role in the world?” and “What do you believe is the greatest future threat to the national security of this country?”
In a debate about global challenges and global threats, Romney and Obama both chose to say nothing at all about the climate crisis, the most global of all challenges and threats.
Both candidates made token mention of renewables, but only after lauding oil and gas.
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.
[W]e’re going to have North American energy independence. We’re going to do it by taking full advantage of oil, coal, gas, nuclear and our renewables.
The candidates did differentiate themselves on government investment in energy technology.
[I]f 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.
Romney responded by harping on Solyndra again, and blasting electric-car companies Tesla and Fisker, which got stimulus funding:
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.
Romney also criticized those two automakers during the first debate, prompting Wired to do some fact-checking and determine that Romney’s claims “that Fisker and Tesla are somehow failing in the marketplace are largely unfounded.” Indeed, last month, a New York Times auto reviewer gushed that the Tesla Model S is a “game-changer … simultaneously stylish, efficient, roomy, crazy fast, high-tech and all electric.”
Wired puts it well: “Most troubling is that Romney’s comments appear to be in direct opposition to his focus on America’s innovation, entrepreneurship, job creation, and a return to stateside manufacturing.”
So: Obama made a brief defense of cleantech investing, but otherwise the candidates said largely the same things about energy and the same nothings about climate.
Contrast the candidates’ silence with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s forceful framing of climate change as a key foreign-policy priority during a speech last week, entitled “Energy Diplomacy in the 21st Century”:
[E]nergy is essential to how we will power our economy and manage our environment in the 21st century. We therefore have an interest in promoting new technologies and sources of energy — especially including renewables — to reduce pollution, to diversify the global energy supply, to create jobs, and to address the very real threat of climate change. …
The transformation to cleaner energy is central to reducing the world’s carbon emissions and it is the core of a strong 21st century global economy.
The speech also included a lot of realpolitik talk about increasing global supplies of oil and gas and building more pipelines to transport that oil and gas around. But unlike so many other prominent political figures, Clinton spotlights climate change as a major issue, one that’s closely bound up with all of the energy challenges the world faces:
This is a moment of profound change. Countries that once weren’t major consumers are. Countries that used to depend on others for their energy are now producers. How will this shape world events? Who will benefit, and who will not? How will it affect the climate, people’s economic conditions, the strength of young democracies? All of this is still unknown. The answers to these questions are being written right now, and we intend to play a major role in writing them. We have no choice. We have to be involved everywhere in the world. The future security and prosperity of our nation and the rest of the world hangs in the balance. …
I believe that we’re up to the challenge, that we can, working together, secure a better future when it comes to energy supply and energy sustainability, and a future that by meeting those two objectives provides greater dignity and opportunity for all and protects the planet we all share at the same time.
Good stuff. I wonder if she’s ever thought about running for president?
Get Grist in your inbox