U.S. Elections. Where is the Leadership on the Climate Crisis?
If Winston Churchill were around today, he would point out that we have now entered a ‘period of consequences’ (a term coined by Churchill in 1939 about the ominous signs of an imminent war). Only today, the war is against Climate Change. The Climate Crisis is real.
With two months left, the candidates, the media, and the public, are focused on the wrong debate. The national debate is lagging far behind reality. The dialogue on climate change is almost non-existent. There are references to climate change and the environment in the recently released Democratic Party platform but it seems that the language is deliberately toned down to appeal to all voters.
Admittedly, a dialogue about the economy, immigration, education, health care, income tax, social inequalities and unemployment is necessary. But all of those problems pale in comparison to the Climate Crisis. As events start to unfold before our very eyes and as our scientific understanding of climate change improves and as emissions continue to rise in spite of our feeble efforts to control them, the predictions grow more dire.
Undisputedly, the climate crisis is the greatest threat ever faced by humanity. Yet, advisers to both Obama and Romney are clearly steering their respective candidate away from the climate crisis believing that the public is not ready for it or doesn’t want to hear it. But with this summer’s extreme heat wave, persistent drought, record Arctic ice melt, massive fires in Colorado, the public ‘gets it’. So, should candidates talk about climate change? The answer is a resounding yes.
Should Candidates Talk About Climate Change?
(Title of article by Andrew Revkin, Dot Earth (NYT)
Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, reports on the results of a recent survey which asked this question: On balance, will candidates for political office benefit or be harmed by talking about and supporting action to reduce global warming?
The short answer is that – at the national level and among ten key swing states – taking a pro-climate stand appears to benefit candidates more than hurt them with registered voters. Following are a few highlights:
- A majority of all registered voters (55 percent) say they will consider candidates’ views on global warming when deciding how to vote.
- Among these climate change issue voters, large majorities believe global warming is happening and support action by the U.S. to reduce global warming, even if it has economic costs.
According to a recent report in Bloomberg Business Week, a poll taken in July by UT Energy shows that 70 % of respondents now believe that climate change is real compared with 52 % in 2010. Climate change deniers who say it’s not taking place fell to 15 % from 22 %.
In a recent editorial, The Washington Post reports that:
“there’s also a sense of disappointment in the candidates — a sense that they are smaller, and their campaigns are smaller, than the issues and challenges facing the country………..and the country needs a serious campaign; it is facing life-or-death questions”
Kelly Rigg, in her HuffPost article, “Invoking FDR: Where is the Leadership on Climate Change?” says that “If ever we needed an “FDR moment,” now would be it”. This is a reference of course to the extraordinary leadership shown by President Roosevelt after the bombing of Pearl Harbour – a decisive moment in American history. Rigg elaborates:
Business as usual, even a positive variant in which we accelerate action, won’t keep us below 2° let alone the 1.5° limit that more than 100 countries are calling for. We need to start moving at warp speed. Sadly, neither of the U.S. presidential candidates is even talking about climate change, let alone proposing the kind of action that will protect our children from dangerous climate change. I don’t know which is more depressing — candidates who don’t consider this a top priority, or an electorate which doesn’t demand it of them.
We have confronted the threats of drugs and terrorism by declaring war on them. With my sincerest apologies to those who abhor the language and metaphors of war, I believe it’s time we declare one on climate change, and empower our leaders to get the job done. We can all play a part, through lifestyle choices, participation in activist campaigns, spreading the word through our communities, and ultimately letting our elected representatives know that we will vote like we mean it. It’s time to insist that our leaders lead.
I agree with Rigg that there is no greater threat to civilization than climate change and its impacts. We keep blowing by one decisive moment after another with the latest having been the Rio+20 conference - The Great Abdication – Rio+20.
Appeal to President Obama
President Obama, there is no time to waste on fighting climate change. In your inspirational 2008 campaign for the Presidency, you provided hope to Americans and the world for a cleaner and brighter future. You even wrote about The Audacity of Hope. But the clock is still ticking and the climate crisis is looming larger than ever with more evidence and more urgency to act. We are still waiting for you to take action. There has never been a more noble opportunity for a presidential candidate to contrast himself from his opponent and elevate himself above the smallness of common politics.
American Presidents have waged war on terrorism, communism, poverty, drugs, cancer, slavery, not to mention the two world wars, Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea, Viet Nam. America is a warring nation. But for the most important war of all time – the war against climate change – there is a deathly silence.
Brian Moench (Climate Crisis: The Silence is Deafening) implores President Obama to take action: “you have the opportunity to be either the most important leader in the history of the world, or ultimately held in greater contempt than George W. Bush. Which will it be?”
You know that leadership is not about electability and telling the electorate what it wants to hear to gain popularity. Leadership is about doing what needs to be done in the face of overwhelming challenges. It is about taking the long view with courage, assuredness, ardour, passion and equanimity.
President Obama, that is your opportunity.