Pet Star 20 Under 40

Silence over climate change is deafening

2012-10-20T23:45:00Z Silence over climate change is deafening Glens Falls Post-Star
October 20, 2012 11:45 pm

WASHINGTON -- Not a word has been said in the presidential debates about what may be the most urgent and consequential issue in the world: climate change.

President Obama understands and accepts the scientific consensus the burning of fossil fuels is trapping heat in the atmosphere, with potentially catastrophic long-term effects. Mitt Romney’s view, as on many issues, is pure quicksilver — impossible to pin down — but when he was governor of Massachusetts, climate change activists considered him enlightened and effective.

Yet neither has mentioned the subject in the debates. Instead, they have argued over who is more eager to extract ever-larger quantities of oil, natural gas and coal from beneath our purple mountains’ majesties and fruited plains.

“We have increased oil production to the highest levels in 16 years,” Obama said in Tuesday’s debate. “Natural gas production is the highest it’s been in decades. We have seen increases in coal production and coal employment.”

Romney scoffed Obama “has not been Mr. Oil, or Mr. Gas, or Mr. Coal,” and promised he, if elected, would be all three. “I’ll do it by more drilling, more permits and licenses,” he said, adding later this means “bringing in a pipeline of oil from Canada, taking advantage of the oil and coal we have here, drilling offshore in Alaska, drilling offshore in Virginia, where the people want it.”

If this is a contest to see who can pretend to be more ignorant of the environmental freight train barreling down the tracks toward us, Romney wins narrowly.

Obama does acknowledge his administration has invested in alternative energy technologies, such as wind and solar, that do not emit carbon dioxide and thus do not contribute to atmospheric warming. But he never really says why, except to say he will not “cede those jobs of the future” to other nations such as China and Germany.

Romney, on the other hand, claims to pledge heart and soul to an idea he, as a successful businessman, must know is ridiculous: “North American energy independence.” The notion seems to be all the oil and natural gas we need can be produced in the United States, Canada and Mexico, and achieving this continental “independence” will magically cause energy prices to fall.

This is silly. At current production levels, relying solely on good old “North American” oil would leave us more than 30 percent short of what we now consume, and no amount of drilling and despoiling could close that gap. Moreover, the price of oil is a global price — a barrel costs the same whether it’s extracted in North Dakota or the North Sea.

Natural gas is harder to transport over long distances, which means the price is more local. But we’re already moving faster than prudence would advise — through the technology of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” — to pump huge quantities of natural gas, and the price is already quite low.

As for coal, Romney was once more of an environmentalist than Obama; as the president noted Tuesday, Romney once stood in front of the Salem Harbor coal-fired plant in Massachusetts and said, “I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that plant — that plant kills people.” Now, however, Romney says he is ardently pro-coal and claims Obama isn’t.

But Obama has long been a champion of so-called “clean coal” technology, which many environmentalists believe is an oxymoron.

Why does it matter that nobody is talking about climate change? Because if you accept climate scientists are right about the warming of the atmosphere — as Obama does, and Romney basically seems to, as well — then you understand some big decisions will have to be made.

A presidential campaign offers an opportunity to educate and engage the American people in the decisions climate change will force us to make. Unfortunately, Obama and Romney have chosen to see this more as an opportunity to pretend the light at the end of the tunnel is not an approaching train.

Eugene Robinson writes for The Washington Post and is the 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary. His email address is

Copyright 2015 Glens Falls Post-Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(6) Comments

  1. Primadonna
    Report Abuse
    Primadonna - October 23, 2012 10:55 am
    Sorry Snowbird, but Henrik's calculations were off and proven incorrect. Did you not get the memo?
  2. snowbird
    Report Abuse
    snowbird - October 21, 2012 4:39 pm
    Climate change
    Recent research by Henrik Svensmark and his group at the Danish National
    Space Center points to the real cause of the recent warming trend. In a
    series of experiments on the formation of clouds, these scientists have
    shown that fluctuations in the Sun's output cause the observed changes in
    Earth's temperature.

    In the past, scientists believed the fluctuations in the Sun's output were
    too small to cause the observed amount of temperature change, hence the need
    to look for other causes like carbon dioxide. However, these new
    experiments show that fluctuations in the Sun's output are in fact large
    enough, so there is no longer a need to resort to carbon dioxide as the
    cause of the recent warming trend.

    The discovery of the real cause of the recent increase in the Earth's
    temperature is indeed a convenient truth. It means humans are not to blame
    for the increase. It also means there is absolutely nothing we can, much
    less do, to correct the situation.

    Thomas Laprade

  3. mememine69
    Report Abuse
    mememine69 - October 21, 2012 9:33 am
    NORMAL people don’t WANT climate change crisis to be real and REAL planet lovers are glad, not disappointed the scientists exaggerated the effects of CO2.
    Science had NEVER said any crisis “WILL” happen. It was always “could” and “might” and “likely”. Not one single IPCC warning isn’t peppered with “maybes” despite “BEING AT THE POINT OF NO RETURN”.
    Want to lose an election for sure? Then just keep threatening the voter’s kids with CO2 deaths.
    *In three debates so far, Obama hasn’t planned to mention climate change once.
    *Obama has not mentioned the crisis in the last two State of the Unions addresses.
    *Occupywallstreet does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded carbon trading stock markets run by corporations.
    *Julian Assange is of course a climate change denier.
    *Canada killed Y2Kyoto with a freely elected climate change denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists warning us of unstoppable warming (a comet hit).

  4. loneoak
    Report Abuse
    loneoak - October 21, 2012 8:50 am
    Let me ask this, if we are using these products already and the solution to pricing is production within our own country is that a problem? Both have said alternative energy is a must which addresses climate change issues, but at the present time why should we buy from another country, we preach in every other aspect of buying to "buy American" but not so in energy? We are going to use this type of energy no matter where it comes from, until alternatives are established so is it not a good idea to use our own enegy resources, create jobs in this country and not support entities that would rather kill us than sell us their oil?
  5. mememine69
    Report Abuse
    mememine69 - October 21, 2012 7:43 am
    Seriously, do you see anybody, even the “scientists” that were warning us of “crisis”, actually ACTING like it’s a “crisis”? You can’t have little tiny catastrophic crisis outside of Harry Potter movies.
    You remaining fear mongers wouldn’t be shooting your mouth off still if there were legal consequences for condemning billions to their CO2 deaths.
  6. Donnaisabella
    Report Abuse
    Donnaisabella - October 21, 2012 2:11 am
    I am so glad someone is talking about the silence of the candidates on this subject. Climate change is such a serious issue but our presidential candidates have not turned it into an issue that could be a teachable moment for the American people. Because of the obvious controversy that has surrounded this subject in the past, no one seems to want to be unpopular by talking about it. If our leaders lack the political will to talk about this subject, most people will hardly give it a thought. Thanks for writing about it, Eugene.


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