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GEORGE KENNEDY: What the candidates aren't talking about — climate change

Thursday, October 25, 2012 | 5:34 p.m. CDT; updated 6:11 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 25, 2012

You probably watched the presidential campaign debate Monday night.

So did Andrew Revkin, who writes the Dot Earth blog on The New York Times' website. When he talked to a group at the Missouri School of Journalism the next day, he noted that what might be the most important issue of all wasn’t even mentioned, again.

That's the issue of climate change – or rather, because climate change is a scientific fact, the issue of what to do to combat it or at least ameliorate its effects.

The vast majority of scientists agree that the climate is changing, the world is warming and that human activity is largely to blame. The consequences, some sooner than later, are likely to be mainly unpleasant for us and fatal for a good many of the creatures that share the earth with us.

Already, the polar ice caps are melting, the sea is rising and becoming more acidic, the weather is becoming more variable and more extreme. Meanwhile, we continue burning fossil fuels and dumping carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. (You can find the facts at the NASA website.)

So you might think somebody would mention all that when the two men who would lead us take the stage.

Mr. Revkin, a veteran science journalist and author of books on the Arctic and on global warming, wasn't surprised that nobody did. After all, he reminded his audience, it's not near the top of the list of things that worry the public. He showed us a poll taken last month, which had the economy as the leading problem, followed by social issues and values, Social Security and health care. "None" and "Unsure" made the list, but not climate change.

We shouldn't have expected the journalists who moderate these debates to bring it up, he said. "Political reporters see climate change as a niche issue, like organic gardening."

It's not as though this is an issue like the Middle East or Afghanistan, whereMitt Romney seems to have adopted President Barack Obama's policies. Instead, as Mr. Revkin wrote in his blog, the president actually "has moved pretty aggressively, if quietly, to roll out restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions through regulations, tighter standards for energy use and vehicle fuel economy and pursue policies fostering a shift from coal to gas."

On this issue as on others, it's harder to know just what Mr. Romney thinks.

The nonpartisan fact-checking organization Politifact reported last year on two statements he made four months apart. In June 2011, he said he believed "the world is getting warmer" and that "humans contribute to that." In October 2011, speaking to a different audience, he said, "My view is that we don't know what's causing climate change on this planet."

He has been consistent in opposing any effective action, such as the cap-and-trade legislation President Obama proposed or the gas mileage standards he has imposed.

Mr. Revkin suggested that it might be a good thing for climate change not to become an overtly partisan issue. He even speculated that Mr. Romney, should he be elected, would be more progressive on at least this issue than his campaign comments have implied.

"Is a little climate silence golden?" he wrote.

I'm guessing not. What reason do we have to believe that Mr. Romney, in office, would turn his back on the science-denying zealots who dominate his party in the House of Representatives and have blocked President Obama's proposals in the Senate? I don't see any that are persuasive.

The president's silence isn't that hard to understand, either.

Let's remember, first, just which state is widely considered the key to victory Nov. 6. That would be Ohio. Now let's consider what are two of Ohio's important but struggling industries. Those would be coal mining and steel making.

If you were in such a tight, high-stakes race in such a state, what would you do? If you were the pragmatist Mr. Obama has shown himself to be, you'd talk about energy independence and saving the auto industry, wouldn't you? You'd mention the elusive dream of "clean coal," but not coal's huge contribution to the greenhouse effect.

The president's climate silence might be regrettable, but this is one case in which the actions he has taken speak louder than the words he doesn't say.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.


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Comments

Michael Williams October 25, 2012 | 6:04 p.m.

Well, this turned out to be more of an anti-Romney missive than anything else.

But the fact that the President does not talk about something most dear to your heart (and as important as you say) speaks volumes about just who is getting sold down the river...no matter how you try to spin it.

Fact is, he can't sell it to the American people in this most important of elections.

(Don't know if you've noticed or not, but there are several issues the President isn't talking about.)

(Report Comment)
frank christian October 25, 2012 | 9:51 p.m.

"On this issue as on others, it's harder to know just what Mr. Romney thinks." Romney stated in the 2nd? debate, "I like coal, oil and gas." He noted the opportunities for progress in Central and South America in which our America could lead, with energy independence. (I recalled, the only American I know doing anything in S. America, is G. Soros with his 2B$ loan to explore for Brazilian oil.) Tonight, a guest on a news show, explained how foreign investors would be here to build factories and cause those of our national companies, having left, to return, without delay,to their home country, to build and produce, when cost of energy and regulation allows expectation of reasonable profit.

To my knowledge our first energy "crisis" occurred under J.E. Carter. He created gas pump lines and professed the same problems we hear today, tho no one had yet thought of tying them to the "environment".
Ronald Reagan ran on the promise of reduced pump prices and did so (while D. Senator Tom Eagleton swore that gas prices would triple) by rescinding one (1) of Carters regulations.

Our lives can only be made better through Growth! Name a Democrat that works for that! Democrats cannot be trusted with our safety, health, or prosperity!

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking October 26, 2012 | 4:58 a.m.

Climate change is very much like the weather - people adapt to it rather than dealing with it realistically, because the actions required to really deal with it are so drastic.

frank christian wrote:

"Ronald Reagan ran on the promise of reduced pump prices and did so (while D. Senator Tom Eagleton swore that gas prices would triple) by rescinding one (1) of Carters regulations."

Right, But he didn't do it by increasing US petroleum production (which had peaked 10 years earlier - the true cause of the energy crisis). He merely cemented our dependence on imported oil, which continues to this day and will continue into the future if demand continues unchecked.

When we talk of "energy independence", we're really only talking about petroleum independence, as we are currently self-sufficient in coal and natural gas. However, realistic prospects for doing this are limited by geology and physics. Most of our reserves are as oil shale, which has never been economical to produce, and the few areas in the country that have increasing production are not increasing fast enough to make a lot of difference.

Obama was proposing to open areas of the Atlantic and Arctic to exploration before Macondo. If you want to blame anyone for the reluctance to lift offshore regulation, blame BP and MMS, not Obama. If he's so anti-growth, why is the US producing more oil now than when he took office?

Everybody wants growth. The problem is that the earth has limits, and we're pushing a lot of them. But such has it been in the course of human history - we over cut and burn, overfish, overfarm, overlog, overwhale, and never seem to get the fact that these resources, even the renewable ones, have limits. The only resources (fossil fuels) that have allowed us to push other limits are NOT renewable (or substitutable). Problem is, they've also allowed the earth to spawn billions more people than would have lived without them, all of them requiring resources. To me, that's a perfect storm.

It's a shame that energy and resources have become political, bewcause they depend on entities that are decidedly apolitical, like physics, geology, climate and thermodymanics. Capitalism and growth are fundamentally constrained by these forces, and wisdom suggests we approach energy policy from these fields, and not empty political rhetoric from candidates that wouldn't know a pumpjack from a jackass. This is serious stuff. The state of civilization a century from now will depend on what we do today.

DK

(Report Comment)
frank christian October 26, 2012 | 7:41 a.m.

Mark F., continuously professes the intent of "leaving politics out of our problems", then, always, detracts only from Conservative politicians and their solutions.

Reagan cured the fictitious crisis derived by Carter. Pump prices spiked because of Carter, not because US petroleum production had peaked 10 years earlier!

"Obama was proposing to open areas of the Atlantic and Arctic to exploration before Macondo." But then he shut them down! Not the same thing.

"If he's so anti-growth, why is the US producing more oil now than when he took office?" The new oil is taken from private land which Obama can not yet, touch!

Mark and the liberals always point to our dwindling petroleum "reserves", never mentioning that they are our Known reserves. Others are exploring and finding new sources with money kept out of the hands of government.
http://www.eia.gov/naturalgas/crudeoilre...

"not empty political rhetoric from candidates that wouldn't know a pumpjack from a jackass." This would describe Obama, not Romney!

(Report Comment)
Bruce Caldwell October 26, 2012 | 9:48 a.m.

King Mitt and Queen Ann will give us all the facts after the election, on a need to know basis.
Dan Senor will be the new information czar.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams October 26, 2012 | 10:06 a.m.

"give us all the facts after the election".
________________

And you're griping about that?

Heck, we're already used to it. For example, sometimes bills have to get passed before we are allowed to know what's in them.

Nancy sed so.....

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams October 26, 2012 | 10:09 a.m.

As for King Mitt and Queen Ann, so far as I know there have been no school children coerced into chanting.....

ummmm...ummmmmm....ummmmmmm.....Mitt Romney

PS: gawd, that particular event was funny.

(Report Comment)
frank christian October 26, 2012 | 10:37 a.m.

I liked the comment of musician Kid Rock: We're proud to have elected our first Black President! Too bad, he couldn't have done a better job.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield October 26, 2012 | 12:52 p.m.

Most people aren't interested in using public transportation, car pooling, walking, biking or any of the myriad other ways that each of them can do their part for energy independence and the environment. George is the exception. I remember seeing him walking daily on Stewart Road to and from campus. Bill Holtz is the only other MU faculty member I remember seeing do that on a regular basis.

Why don't all MU faculty and staff who live in the Old SW walk or bike? The answer: because they believe that their lifestyle is more important than the environment, our economy and soldiers' lives.

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm October 26, 2012 | 1:08 p.m.

"The answer: because they believe that their lifestyle is more important than the environment, our economy and soldiers' lives."

Well said Jimmy

(Report Comment)
Ronald Jensen October 30, 2012 | 1:11 a.m.

Mr. Christian, I work in the Missourian newsroom and am not supposed to participate in these discussions. However, if I'm not offering an opinion but merely correcting what I believe to be a factual error, I think it's OK.

You said:

"To my knowledge our first energy 'crisis' occurred under J.E. Carter. He created gas pump lines and professed the same problems we hear today, tho no one had yet thought of tying them to the 'environment'."

Mr. Christian, I am sure that's not true. I owned a car and bought gasoline in the 1970s and I remember distinctly the escalating gasoline prices and lines at the pumps in 1973 and 1974, during the Nixon and Ford administrations. Carter was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 1977. There might have been some gas lines after that, but I'm sure the first ones were in 1973. Probably the worst ones, too, if only because we Americans were so spoiled by cheap gasoline before then. (When I first came to Columbia in May 1971, there was a gasoline price war raging here, and prices were 18 or 19 cents a gallon at most stations.)

I remember the first time I saw a pump with a price of 50 cents a gallon, I just about hit the ceiling. Well, the roof of my car. I was driving to my hometown in Alabama for a visit with the folks and stopped at Winona, Mississippi, where I-55 and U.S. 82 meet. There were no lines because it was the wee hours and there was hardly anybody around, but I just kept on driving when I saw that price. Stopped in Starkville, Mississippi, and filled up there instead. That was in 1973, the spring or summer. The gasoline shortage or crisis or whatever you want to call it had been going on for a while then.

I say this on the basis of my memories, not any Googling or exhaustive research, but I am sure. If my memory is faulty, please let me know.

Ron Jensen
Clinical Instructor
Missourian Newsroom

(Report Comment)

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