I constantly whine about the Beltway media, and I believe global warming is the most important issue facing humanity. So I was infuriated but not surprised to hear Candy Crowley explain after the last debate that she considered a question for “you climate change people,” but ditched it because “we knew the economy was still the main thing.” Actually, the technical term for people affected by climate change is “people.” It’s already an economic issue—drought is overwhelming the middle of the country—and, memo to Bob Scheiffer, it’s a foreign policy issue, too. But unless Schlieffer asks about it tonight in Boca, this will probably be the first election since 1984 that climate change doesn’t come up in a debate, and the candidates certainly haven’t been raising the issue themselves.
“Climate Silence” has become a meme in recent months, alongside photos of President Obama and Mitt Romney with duct tape over their mouths. Activists held a Climate Silence rally last week in ankle-deep water at a Whole Foods just a few blocks from my home in Miami Beach, where rising sea levels are forcing salt water from Biscayne Bay into our streets at high tide. It’s certainly annoying to hear the candidates argue about who would burn more coal in Ohio and Virginia, and who would be more friendly to oil and gas drilling on public lands. In 2008, Obama talked a lot about climate change on the campaign trail; I remember him warning in New Hampshire that global warming could wipe out the ski industry. John McCain talked about the issue, too. It’s bizarre that after four more years of record-breaking temperatures, not to mention (because the candidates don’t) the BP spill and the Massey mine disaster, Obama and Romney are bragging about their friendliness to fossil fuels.
I’ll have more to say about this after the debate. But while it’s absolutely fair to complain that Obama doesn’t talk about climate change anymore, except at rallies when he’s firing up his liberal base, it’s also worth noting that he’s probably done more to prevent climate change than anyone else on the planet. His stringent new fuel efficiency rules for cars and light trucks are expected to reduce emissions by 6 billion metric tons by 2025, the equivalent of wiping out an entire year of emissions. As I’ve written here, , and in The New New Deal, Obama’s stimulus bill also launched a quiet clean-energy revolution, with unprecedented investments in wind, solar, geothermal and other renewables; energy efficiency in every possible form; blue-sky research into low-carbon technologies; the smart grid; electric vehicles; advanced biofuels; and the factories to build all that green stuff in the U.S. It almost goes without saying that Republicans opposed all of these shifts towards a greener economy, as well as a cap-and-trade plan that had been part of McCain’s agenda. They’ve blocked Obama’s efforts to kill tax loopholes that benefit the oil industry, and extend tax credits that benefit the wind industry. But U.S. emissions are still falling even though the economy is growing.
The point here is not to excuse Obama’s climate silence. He’s got a big megaphone, and what the president says and doesn’t say matters. It would be nice to hear him talk about clean energy as a planetary imperative as well as a source of green jobs, and hear him call out Romney for backing away from climate science to pander to Tea Party activists. But if his words have been unsatisfying, his deeds have been impressive. Which matters more?