Presidential contenders and climate change

This blog, written by Jennifer Rennicks (former Senior Director of Policy & Communications at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy), is the fifth in a series of blogs examining the climate and energy positions of Presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, Jill Stein and Gary Johnson. Please note: SACE does not support or oppose candidates or political parties. Links to reports, candidate websites and outside sources are provided as citizen education tools.

Guest Blog | October 3, 2012 | Climate Change, Elections, Energy Policy, Extreme Weather

Rising temperatures have clearly played a part in the oppressive heat waves, devastating droughts, rampant wildfires and deadly storms that impacted the U.S. this summer – more details about those extreme weather events below.  Yet both President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney stayed fairly quiet on the issue of climate change during this campaign season until their respective conventions. Their statements on the issue, however, could not have been more different.

During his speech at the Republican National Convention, Romney mocked Obama’s long-stated position on climate change, saying that:

“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.”

The following week at the Democratic National Convention, Obama provided a sharp retort during his acceptance speech:

“And yes, my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet — because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They are a threat to our children’s future.”

Such direct references to climate change are a much needed departure from the silence we’ve seen thus far in these campaigns. Unlike in 2008, when then-Senator Obama spoke clearly and frequently about the need for climate legislation to limit carbon emissions, President Obama has not put much emphasis on the growing threats of climate change or the needed course of action in his stump speeches on campaign trail. On the other hand, his campaign website and recent speeches frequently tout his Administration’s investment in and commitment to clean energy and clearly connect these policies to a reduction in carbon pollution. In large part because of an utter lack of leadership from Congress, the Obama Administration has proposed the first ever carbon pollution rules for power plants, specifically affecting new coal-fired power plants, and twice raised the CAFE standards to cut carbon emissions from the transportation sector.  It’s almost as if President Obama, who watched the contentious 2009 climate bill debate, has decided to act on climate without speaking about climate.

Romney’s stance on climate change has undergone a complete 180 turn-around from his previous actions as governor when he from his actions as governor when he released a climate change action plan for Massachusetts and agreed to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Even during his first run for the White House, Romney acknowledged the importance of global warming when questioned at an event in St. Petersburg, Florida in August 2007. When asked by a local resident whether the U.S.’s significant contribution to global warming pollution meant we should take the lead in promoting solutions, then-candidate Romney said, “the answer is a global solution to global warming.” He then offered a laundry list of potential solutions including wind power, solar power and more efficient vehicles — the very clean energy solutions that are all but absent from his proposed energy plan that stresses oil, natural gas and coal. Listen to Romney’s response here.

Romney’s opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency’s newly finalized mercury rule, as well as criticism of the proposed carbon pollution standard for new coal plants, leaves little doubt that a Romney presidency could actively seek to reverse any of the climate pollution reduction gains of the past four years. Effectively, the U.S. would be left without Congressional leadership or executive leadership on one of the most pressing issues of our time.

And pressing climate change truly is: Climate Communications’ new report summarizes data from NOAA’s U.S. Climate Extremes Index which confirms that the summer of 2012 was the most extreme summers in U.S. history:

As both of the major party candidates prepare to square off in the first debate starting tonight, I’m hopeful that they will speak about the critical issue of our changing climate and pledge to address the impacts with sound energy policy. There’s still time to send an email to tonight’s moderator, PBS’s Jim Lehrer, urging him to directly ask the candidates about their positions on climate change and how each intends to address what United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has called the “defining challenge of our era.”

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