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UMaine Today Magazine

Changing Climes
Back to Election 2008-]

Mark Anderson
Mark Anderson

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Mark Anderson, Senior Instructor in the School of Economics and Coordinator of the Ecology and Environmental Sciences Program

The political discourse around climate change and energy is clearly different in this Presidential election campaign from what we came to expect from the Bush Administration. There is none of the initial denial and then grudging acceptance of the science of anthropocentric climate change. Yet there is little in the literature of any of the campaigns to make us think that this issue will be tackled as seriously as the science suggests it must be.

Beyond the effective rhetoric of all the campaigns about the seriousness of the issue, the proposed policies are vague enough to suggest that dealing with climate change is little more than an economic opportunity for American technology. Obama's campaign says, "He has reached across the aisle to sponsor ambitious legislation to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and turn this crisis of global warming into a moment of opportunity for innovation and job creation." McCain's campaign says, "John McCain believes and effective and sustainable climate policy must also support rapid economic growth." And Hillary Clinton plan is one for "Turning the challenges of energy dependence and global warming into an economic opportunity." There is call for shared sacrifice, for fundamental changes in the American way of life. Addressing climate change will be painless to the average American.

This is, in part, the political legacy of Jimmy Carter and his 1979 address to the nation on energy when he admonished that "…too many of use now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption." Carter concluded that, "There is simply no way to avoid sacrifice." But ignore Americans did, punishing Carter at the polls and then going on a three decade binge of "self-indulgence and consumption."

Remembering the political fate of Carter, there are only deeply buried hints of the need for sacrifice in the campaign literature this year. The keystone policy for all three campaigns is "cap and trade" plan for greenhouse gas emissions. The message is that climate change is something that big companies create and that they will have to fix. You and I are not part of the problem and therefore will not need to participate in the solution. It will be painless.

The fact that both Clinton and McCain supported a gasoline tax "holiday" to deal with rapidly rising gas prices demonstrates the inability of the candidates to tell Americans the difficult messages at the heart of climate change solutions. The rhetoric here for all the candidates includes "greenhouse gas emission targets and timetables." But the candidates do not present a credible set of policies for achieving these targets, because they do not challenge the American people with the seriousness of the looming problems or the need for fundamental change.

The tone has changed; climate change is acknowledged to be real. Now the denial is about the challenges inherent in the solutions.


UMaine Today Magazine
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