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Climate Change, the Taboo Phrase in U.S. Electoral Politics

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tours flooded areas in Burlington, North Dakota in June 2011. Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Patrick Moes

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tours flooded areas in Burlington, North Dakota in June 2011. Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Patrick Moes

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 23 2012 (IPS) - The United States endured its hottest summer in history this year, with droughts and wildfires ravaging the country. And according to a new report from the global reinsurance giant Munich Re, insurance losses related to extreme weather have nearly quadrupled in the U.S. since 1980.

So one might expect that climate change would be a hot topic in the debates being held ahead of the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 6.

But during the four nationally televised debates held so far – three presidential and one vice presidential – neither Democratic incumbent Barack Obama nor his Republican challenger Mitt Romney has even mentioned the subject of climate change.

“It is a missed opportunity to talk about one of the most serious challenges that we face,” Bob Deans, senior advisor for the Natural Resources Defence Council Action Fund, told IPS.

“According to a new survey from Texas University, 73 percent of the (U.S.) public believe that climate change is happening. In a recent Yale study, 70 percent say so. The surveys were made in September. So, what we see is that seven in 10 Americans notice this problem,” Deans said.

He cited the recent report from Munich Re, which found that natural disasters have increased more in North America than in any other region of the world since 1980. Insured losses from weather catastrophes in North America between 1980 and 2011 totaled 510 billion dollars, according to Munich Re.

This shows that climate change is just not an environmental issue – it is also a financial issue, Deans said.

“As people see the increase of extreme weather, people are getting the message that this is a serious economic issue, not just a question for tree huggers.

“Rising sea levels can mean that homes are at risk, and if your home is at risk, you cannot get a mortgage on the house. And look at the corn farmers that have not had a good crop in years. We see families that have had a farm for hundreds of years, and now they cannot do it anymore,” Deans said.

During the public debates, including one focused on U.S. foreign policy Monday evening, both Romney and Obama have mentioned the need to bring down high gasoline prices. Both were silent, however, on the question of lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is becoming increasingly obvious that Obama and Romney are no different when it comes to their miscalculation that any mention of climate is a political liability,” Kyle Ash, climate campaigner at Greenpeace USA, told IPS.

“Despite recent polling showing the vast majority of the public are very concerned with climate change, both candidates prefer to pander to fossil fuel interests that invest against climate solutions,” he said.

“The biggest difference between Obama and Romney derives from the Republican campaign platform that denies climate change. However, both candidates have run administrations implementing climate pollution policies.”

Ash said that in the bigger picture, Obama and Romney risk losing votes if they keep ignoring the issue of global warming.

“Hundreds of thousands of Americans have already petitioned Obama and Romney to discuss their views on climate policy, since it is such a dire and pressing issue for the economy and even for our basic way of life,” Ash said.

In a bid to mobilise citizen action and pressure policymakers, the climate action group 350.org has launched a new campaign called Do The Math Tour, which kicks off on Nov. 7, the day after the presidential election, and involves events in 20 cities.

It has the support of celebrities such as author/activist Naomi Klein and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu.

“If we are going to stand up to fossil fuel companies, we need a movement. They have all the money, so we need to try something different. This tour is designed to help grow a movement strong enough to win,” Daniel Kessler, media campaigner at 350.org, told IPS.

“It is simple math. We can burn 565 more gigatonnes of carbon and stay below two Celsius degrees of warming. Anything more than that risks catastrophe for life on Earth. The only problem? Fossil fuel corporations now have 2,795 gigatonnes in their reserves, five times the safe amount. And they are planning to burn it all, unless we rise up to stop them.”

Kessler also said that even though neither major candidate is speaking out enough about climate change, he believes there is still a clear difference between Obama and Romney.

“It looks as if (a) President Romney would be a disaster for both the environment and the climate. Romney has said that he wants to strip the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) of its authority to regulate carbon emissions, end tax credits for renewable energy, and preserve massive subsidies for oil and coal companies, who are already among the most profitable companies in the world,” Kessler said.

“President Obama’s policies are not strong enough to meet the challenge of global warming, but he has fought to protect the EPA, raised auto mileage standards, and made the single largest investment in world history in clean energy, with the stimulus.”

Neither the Obama nor the Romney campaign responded to IPS requests for comment on the issue.

But Scott McLarty, media coordinator for the Green Party, said, “The topic of climate change has been completely ignored by president Obama and Romney in the public debates.

“However, in the alternative debates, the Green Party candidate Jill Stein has spoken about climate change several times. And she will continue to talk about it,” McLarty told IPS.

 
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  • windy2

    Munich Re is not trusted as a source of information and their information has been refuted by numerous papers in peer review journals. When did large profit motivated insurance companies surpass scientific peer review as a source of factual information?

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