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.