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Why Climate Change Shouldn't Be Ignored This Election

Jordan Klein |
September 24, 2012 | 11:29 a.m. PDT


The rest of the world has acknowledged that global warming is caused by humans, and that we need to do something about it. (Oxfam International, Creative Commons)
The rest of the world has acknowledged that global warming is caused by humans, and that we need to do something about it. (Oxfam International, Creative Commons)
There is an unspoken issue of the 2012 campaign that requires our deepest attention. This enormous elephant in the room is the oncoming threat of climate change.

While President Obama and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney argue over tax returns, job figures, and videos of the latter essentially calling 47 percent of the country's citizens lazy leeches who depend on the government, the greatest environmental crisis to ever confront mankind continues to hurtle towards us.

It is frankly an embarrassment that such a monumental issue is being virtually ignored by the two men vying to lead the most powerful nation in the free world. However, this abdication of duties by our highest elected officials is nothing new, for the United States has consistently and shamefully lagged behind the rest of the developed world in regards to environmental policies for the better part of the last two decades.

In 1997, 83 nations, including the United States, signed the Kyoto Protocol. This landmark agreement set a variety of targets for nations to reduce their output of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas causing the phenomenon of global warming. Yet the United States Congress never ratified the Protocol, due to concerns that the treaty did not hold developing nations to a strict enough standard. The United States eventually pulled out of the Protocol completely under President George W. Bush, undoubtedly one of the worst presidents the environment has ever had.

The fact is that the United States is one of the primary nations responsible for climate change. In 2007, the United States emitted over 20 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The problem has only continued to get progressively worse, and since 1990, greenhouse gas emissions in this country have increased by 10.5 percent. The results of this behavior are beginning to become palpable. For instance, this year is on track to be the warmest year on record worldwide. In addition, Arctic sea ice levels are at the lowest they have ever been measured at and insect-driven diseases such West Nile Virus are affecting more people than ever. The repercussions of climate change are upon us, and unless drastic action is taken quickly, the world is likely to experience a variety of unprecedented natural disasters in the very near future.

The science on climate change has long been settled. The vast majority of climatologists in virtually every study on the matter released agree that humans are without a doubt causing the earth to warm due to the burning of fossil fuels that has taken place since the Industrial Revolution. In this light, it is baffling to consider that a large swath of the population of the United States still does not believe climate change is taking place. While recent polls that indicate that close to 70 percent of Americans attribute recent heat waves to climate change are encouraging, the lack of the American public’s acceptance of a scientific fact is disturbing. Of course, we are talking about a country that still boasts a sizable contingent of citizens who have not yet bought into the concept of evolution.

Most of the blame for the ignorance of the American public must be placed at the feet of both the media and our elected officials. The media suffers from a condition in which they feel they must present every single issue as a two-sided matter. Because of this, virtually every news report dealing with climate change attempts to give fair and equal time to climate change deniers. The obvious problem with this is that a fake debate is set up between actual scientists on one side and corporate lobbyists with no background in climate science on the other. The media has a responsibility to simply state the truth, which is that denying the existence of climate change at this point is tantamount to believing the moon landing was staged.

This artificial debate is completely bought and paid for by oil companies, who have the most to lose should the United States move away from its dangerous addiction to fossil fuels. The massive amount of lobbyist money funneled into the pockets of our elected officials from the oil companies has precluded the passing of any meaningful climate change legislation.

A perfect example of congressional inaction was on display in 2009, when the House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which would have established a cap-and-trade system designed to lower greenhouse emissions. However, the bill never got farther than the Senate, where Republicans still in denial over the existence of climate change branded the act is a job-killing government overreach. After this stinging defeat, President Obama simply removed the subject of climate change from his talking points and moved on with the rest of his agenda.

The failure of the cap-and-trade bill to pass Congress virtually ensured that climate change would not be an issue in the 2012 campaign. The issue faded from the public’s mind as unemployment numbers rose and the health care debate ravaged the political arena. The elimination of climate change from the public discourse is a failure on the part of our politicians. The job of a politician is not to pander to the sentiments of the public, but rather to make independent decisions for the good of the nation. The facts clearly dictate that the threat of climate change is real and rapidly approaching. The only logical conclusion is to embrace what the rest of the world has known for years, and begin to combat the rising temperatures worldwide.

What we are faced with in this election, with regard to climate change, is a choice of the lesser of two evils. While Governor Romney is better for the environment than many of his Republican colleagues who refuse to even admit the existence of the established science, he still has never given any indication that he thinks the rising global temperatures constitute any sort of serious threat.

President Obama, on the other hand, has said all the right things about climate change. He clearly understands the science and comprehends the need for action. However, the president’s first term more resembles a record of broken promises and failed initiatives than a platform of achievements. The political reality is that it is virtually impossible to pass any meaningful legislation when nearly every Republican refuses to even acknowledge the existence of the problem.

The true choice in this election for the environmentally conscious among us is this: The Democratic Party, while still woefully inadequate, is the only of the two major parties to embrace established science and recognize the danger posed by climate change.


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