Obama and Romney clash over clean energy, but climate change frozen out

United States green NGOs and businesses have been left frustrated after the final presidential debate before next month’s election failed to address the topic of climate change and made no mention of environmental issues. Campaigners were quick to point out that the absence of climate change from the debate on foreign policy meant that for the first time since 1984 the topic had failed to feature in any of the televised presidential and vice presidential debates. The Climate Progress blog led the condemnation, declaring that “even as the world has seen 331 consecutive months with global temperatures over the 20th century average, even as extreme weather gets more intense and expensive, even as the Arctic sees unprecedented melt of sea ice, and even as scientists issue dire warnings about an approaching climate ‘tipping point’, the issue got no mention at all within three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate”. The debate followed a blistering attack on President Obama’s environmental record from Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who was quoted by the Guardian as calling Obama a “climate denier” for failing to address the topic during the televised debates. “We sure didn’t hear him talking about climate in his debate,” she said. “In either of these debates we don’t hear him talking about climate and the devastation of it. Whether he is a denier or just a silencer, he has certainly silenced any discussion of the issue that would motivate real solutions.” Green groups had hoped the final debate’s focus on foreign policy could provide the candidates with an opportunity to address the global impacts resulting from climate change, particularly given that senior figures within the US military have gone public with concerns over the scale of the long-term threat global warming poses to US national security. But despite polls suggesting the topic remains an important issue for swing voters and suggestions Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s “flip-flopping” on climate change policy could be open to attacks from the President, neither candidate mentioned the issue. The closest they got to addressing environmental concerns was a short exchange on clean energy policy, where President Obama argued the Republicans’ plans to cut support for low carbon energy projects would undermine US competitiveness. He argued that if the Republicans are allowed to curb basic research funding then the US would “lose the lead in things like clean energy technology”. Romney countered that he would continue basic research funding, but bring an end to more comprehensive state support for clean energy projects, such as the controversial loan guarantees handed out to failed solar manufacturer Solyndra. Environmental groups and green businesses have been left frustrated at the lack of debate on green policies, but are reluctant to criticise Obama publicly for fear of eroding support for the president and opening the door for a Romney presidency that has vowed to slash environmental legislation and clean energy support programmes in favour of increased investment in fossil fuels. “Climate change deserved a proper airing during the debates,” said Frances Beinecke, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, in a statement. “At the end of the day, though, actions speak louder than words. And there’s no doubt which candidate will take strong, decisive actions to combat this urgent, global problem. He already has. And that’s President Obama.” Mindful of the need to secure the support of green-minded voters, the Obama campaign issued an emailed memo to supporters over the weekend highlighting how the President has repeatedly reiterated his commitment to tackling climate change on the campaign trail, even if the topic did not feature in the debates. The email from Ken Berlin, the chair of Obama’s Energy & Environment Team, cites the introduction of new fuel efficiency standards and increased investment in clean energy projects, while also quoting the President’s recent stump speech in which he attacked Romney’s suggestion that climate change is a joke. “Climate change isn’t a hoax,” he said. “The droughts we’ve seen, the floods, the wildfires – those aren’t a joke. They’re a threat to our children’s future. And we can do something about it. That’s part of what’s at stake in this election.”

Business Green, 23 October 2012 ;http://www.businessgreen.com ;