America tired of hearing climate change addressed as a joke, grassroots voter efforts show

Publish date: October 1, 2012

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney offered President Barack Obama offered a poignant and rich barb about climate change across the distance of their respective national party conventions last month.

Rich because the burr Republican hopeful Romney slung at Democrat Obama went over so well with his constituents that Romney has decided to incorporate it into his campaign road show.

Poignant because Obama’s single prominent response to it since his own acceptance of the Democratic nomination to run for a second term was about all we have heard from the president, who a little less than four years ago showed the promise of being the US president that would finally take off the gloves where the environment was concerned.

As the candidates enter their first of three presidential debates on Wednesday, October 3, polling data and a grassroots Internet groundswell are demanding that the climate debate be transformed from a punch line to a serious discussion of science and clear climate mitigation plans from both candidates.

The joke that won’t go away

Romney’s Republican National Convention quip went like this: “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans…”

Romney paused to let the distain and howls of laughter wash over his crowd, before adding “and to heal the planet.”

Obama rebutted a few days later, saying: “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, and in this election you can do something about it.”

After a summer in the US where more than 2000 heat records where dramatically surpassed, and US agriculture severely hobbled, US voter are demanding more than canned laughter on one side and vague yet seriously phrases promises from the other.

They want the straight dope.

Electorates on both sides of the fence seem so exasperated by failure to mention future US climate policy that many interest groups are setting up websites pressing the Romney and Obama to lay out their positions once and for all.

To spur discussion, the non-partisan League of Conservation Voters has posted a petition on the web urging Jim Lehrer, the moderator of the Wednesday debate to ask the candidates “how they will confront the greatest challenge of our generation – climate change.”

Pinning down candidates’ climate positions a slippery endeavor

Following suit, the founders of, which went live last Thursday, is trying to present some glimpse of the candidates record on climate change issues even if the candidate themselves are not.

The site argues that both Romney and Obama have shifted, softened or otherwise toned down their public statements on the problem in “a collective descent toward mute acceptance of global calamity.”

The site charts a selection of public statements made by both men over the last five years or so, and sets them against a tonal spectrum that ranges from actions, promises or affirmation of the issue on one end, to avoidance, denial and exacerbation on the other.

This muddle, recent polls of Americans on the right, the middle and the left of the political spectrum have found, is not acceptable – even in the circumstances of US economic turmoil.

“Taking a pro-climate stance is a political winner, especially for Democrats,” Edward Maibach, director for the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, told Bloomberg. “It’s not the most important issue” for most undecided voters, he said, but added “it’s somewhere in their lexicon of issues.”

In short, stumping to save the climate is not a losing issue.

Voters demanding to hear…something real

A Bloomberg national poll taken between September 21 and September 24 revealed that 78 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of independents believe humans are warming the earth – potentially isolating Romney from that portion of the electorate that agrees that climate change is not a “hoax.” The same poll revealed that only 26 percent of republicans thought climate change was anthropogenic.

This data is consistent with polling done in March 2012 by Yale University and George Mason University, which found that 72 percent of Americans across the political spectrum think that global warming should be a priority for the president and Congress.

Among registered voters, 84 percent of Democrats, 68 percent of independents and 52 percent of Republicans think global warming should be a priority.

“It’s true that both do talk about climate change from time to time – Obama more than Mitt Romney, and in a different way,” Brad Johnson, the campaign manager for the climate coverage watchdog group Forecast the Facts, which mounted site in cooperation with Friends of the Earth Action, told the Huffington Post.  

“There’s a real kind of differentiated gap in how they both talk about it, but it has changed over time,” Johnson said. “There’s been a real sort of decline in ambition and specificity and seriousness from both candidates.”

Reading the tea leaves over where the candidates stand

As the recent Bloomberg poll shows, that comes as no surprise to Romney supporters, who have seen him vacillate on the issue depending on who he is talking to. In his book “No Apology,” he wrote, “I believe that climate change is occurring” and “human activity is a contributing factor.” But on the campaign trail last year he said, “We don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet.”

He has also criticized Obama’s treatment of coal power plants and opposes treating carbon dioxide as a pollutant and the capping of carbon dioxide emissions, but favors spending money on clean technology

Were the peaks and valleys are more apparent are Obama’s record, and many observers like Johnson say the US President has lost momentum in maintaining that climate urgency we saw in 2008 when he famously declared that: “Few challenges facing America – and the world – are more urgent than combating climate change.”

The Obama campaign is currently emphasizing ways in which he long has sought fusion between clean energy and economic growth.

“By advocating for the growth of renewable energy, President Obama has continually called for action that will address the sources of climate change,” Adam Fetcher, a spokesman for the Obama campaign told the Huffington Post.

Achievements – though laudable – not enough to persuade

In light of Obama’s record, however, this assertion is certainly not enough to win the day. In 2009, Obama did propose a bill that would have capped power plant carbon dioxide emissions and allowed trading of credits for the right to emit greenhouse gases, but while narrowly passing the House of Representatives, the bill died in the Senate.

International treaty efforts aimed at committing nations to emissions cuts have also failed.

Obama since has taken a different approach, treating carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the law with his executive power over the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in order to side-step a belligerent Congress.  

He also, in a resounding victory, doubled auto fuel economy standards, which will increase the cost of cars but save drivers money at the pump. He’s further put billions of stimulus dollars into cleaner energy.

But websites like and others are demanding something with more weight to it than a recitation of achievements.

“Voters deserve to hear what our presidential candidates propose to do to lead the country on addressing this catastrophic problem,” Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth Action, a co-founded of told the Huffington Post.

The science is there to be used

Democratic Reps. Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Henry Waxman of California – who authored the original 2009 bill that the US Senate killed – last week rounded up the best scientific evidence of climate change (downloadable at right).

“All weather events are now impacted by climate change to some degree because the underlying conditions that give rise to weather have been changed,” the report states.

“Climate change has contributed to shattered records and unprecedented weather catastrophes, like those the United States has experienced this summer. It’s as if global warming has stacked the deck with extra jokers, making some weather events more frequent and severe and increasing the chances of an event far outside the norm.”

So, Obama’s allied certainly have put the science on his side and he can deploy its findings to steer the climate debate back on track in the coming debate – and away from the punch line that Romney turned it into in his Republican National Convention speech.

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