History was made at the third and final presidential debate at Lynn University on Monday night. President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, sparred over American policy in Libya and Iran. They traded generalities on trade with China and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and made brief mentions of renewable technology and "energy independence."
But as noted by several debate watchers, climate change was never mentioned -- not by the candidates, and not by the debate moderator, Bob Schieffer of CBS News. Given the absence of the topic at the two preceding meetings between Obama and Romney, the close of Monday night's event marked the first time in roughly a generation that climate change has failed to receive an airing at any of the presidential debates.
Nearly 25 years after NASA scientist James Hansen famously told Congress that the science behind the greenhouse effect was clear -- and after similarly long-lived efforts to raise awareness of global warming and to force the topic into the national dialog -- the meaning behind Monday's milestone is likely to be hotly debated. To some, it is a sign that climate change has become a niche issue -- and is now being treated like any other special interest. To others, the candidates are merely playing the political odds in an election in which Americans are highly focused on jobs and other more immediate concerns.
But in the hours immediately following the debate, activists and climate scientists simply expressed a mixture of anger and disillusionment.
“Stopping global warming” has no place in U.S. Election
It’s a relief for Canadians that America’s real concerns are trumping the loud and aggressive climate lobby in the U.S. election. After all, we have pledged to follow the U.S. lead on climate change. For example, our Copenhagen greenhouse gas emission targets are exactly the same. If America brings in a national cap and trade system, you can be sure Canada will follow.
Consequently, even though we have no say in what Americans ultimately decide, the U.S. climate debates are extremely important to Canada.
Before the first Presidential debate, nine climate activist groups delivered petitions with 160,000 signatures to debate moderator Jim Lehrer urging him to focus on climate change. For weeks main stream media pushed the issue, asserting that President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney must address this, “the most crucial issue of our time.”
But they did not, and Lehr completely ignored the topic as well. The same thing happened in the second and third Presidential debates in which neither the candidates nor the moderators said anything about global warming at all.
In a primetime special report over the weekend, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., criticized President Obama for putting his environmental politics ahead of putting Americans back to work.
Inhofe, author of “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future,” explained the White House’s repeated stonewalling of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would bring crude oil from Canada to refineries in the U.S., is costing jobs
“We have all this capability, not just in producing and exploring, but also the pipelines going through,” Inhofe said. “We have to keep the production in America.”
The Obama and Romney campaigns are making the point that there are big differences between the positions of the two presidential candidates, and America has a clear choice between two futures.
There are no issues on which those statements are truer than energy policy and its impact on global climate change. The candidates haven't said much about climate change so far. They should be forced to talk about it in one of the upcoming presidential debates, preferably the first of the three mano a mano face-offs on Oct. 3 in Denver.
Every interest group in the country would like to see its issues highlighted in a presidential debate. Why should climate change be at the top of the list?
First, it is no longer an issue we can put off for the future. When climate scientists began to firm up their conclusions that climate change is real and caused by us humans, most of us thought we wouldn't experience the impacts for a few generations. That turns out not to be the case. Climate change already has become a clear and present danger to the American people and to international stability.
People love to talk about the weather, especially when it's strange like the mercifully ended summer of 2012. This year the nation's weather has been hotter and more extreme than ever, federal records show. Yet there are two people who aren't talking about it, and they both happen to be running for president.
Where they stand:
In 2009, President Barack Obama proposed a bill that would have capped power plant carbon dioxide emissions and allowed trading of credits for the right to emit greenhouse gases, but the measure died in Congress. An international treaty effort failed. Obama since has taken a different approach, treating carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the law. He doubled auto fuel economy standards, which will increase the cost of cars but save drivers money at the pump. He's put billions of stimulus dollars into cleaner energy.
Mitt Romney's view of climate change has varied. In his book "No Apology," he wrote, "I believe that climate change is occurring" and "human activity is a contributing factor." But on the campaign trail last year he said, "We don't know what's causing climate change on this planet." He has criticized Obama's treatment of coal power plants and opposes treating carbon dioxide as a pollutant and the capping of carbon dioxide emissions, but favors spending money on clean technology. Romney says some actions to curb emissions could hurt an already struggling economy.