While climate change is an established reality in much of the world, the United States continues to lag behind in recognizing the truth, despite recent gains. The U.S. is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China, but it does not have an official dedicated policy to confront that fact. One need not look beyond the Presidential Debate held last night, October 16, at Hofstra University in New York for a shining example of how climate change has been labeled a dirty phrase in the U.S.
The second of the three scheduled debates between President Obama and Mitt Romney featured a spirited exchange in regards to energy visions, but climate change was not mentioned by either candidate, nor was there any mention of the environment. In fact, both candidates extolled their support for expanding the use of fossil fuels, which Mr. Romney accused President Obama of not embracing the energy sources enough.
Fossil fuels play an integral role in stimulating a fragile economy through jobs and revenue. However, balancing climate change in the equation is highlighted on President Obama’s website, but has been left out of the election cycle. More than 60 million viewers tuned in for the debate but neither candidate spoke of the need to combat climate change nor the economic benefits that can result by stimulating new technologies to meet the challenge.
Politics is always front and center. Both candidates have the ultimate goal of reaching 270 electoral votes to win the presidency November 6th. The U.S. features a diverse electorate, diverse geography and diverse issues. The election is expected to be decided by the results of “swing states” thus neither candidate wants to alienate any potential voter whether a coal miner or an oil rigger. Any false step can lose a state for the candidate, and potentially the election.
A portion of United States citizenry has been labeled as “climate deniers.” They broadly believe either climate change is a hoax or the climate is not changing due to human activity but rather it is a natural cycle. This is in stark contrast to the U.S.’ neighbor to the north. Only two percent of Canadians believe climate change is not occurring, according to a survey conducted by Insightrix Research, Inc. for IPAC-CO2 Research Inc.
International governments have realized the need to cut their carbon emissions and many have implemented specific targets to meet, which the U.S. has not done. Science is a crucial part of the equation when developing policy and proper experts have been consulted to shape the appropriate measures. For example, the United Kingdom has pledged to cut emissions by at least 34 percent by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050. In sum, the European Union pledged a 20 percent reduction of emissions by 2020, which could increase to 30 percent by 2020 if other major emitters agree to the same.
During the debate President Obama did again tout his “all-of-the-above” energy strategy which he clearly stated includes renewable energy, undoubtedly a key ingredient to combat climate change. Over his first term, President Obama has embraced renewable energy and it has proven a successful job creator despite partisan rhetoric. According to Ernst and Young’s report “Renewable energy attractiveness indices: August 2012,” the United States is ranked second following China and with Germany trailing in third. The president has set a goal of creating 5 million green jobs and American Recovery Act provided $80 billion for the sector. The industry is expanding employment for analysts, auditors, economists, energy experts, engineers, financial professionals, lawyers, marketers, scientists, technical professionals and a variety of more professions.
The U.S. may in fact be in a good position to implement strong climate change targets through legislation with proper leadership. U.S. emissions have begun to fall from its high perch due to a combination of factors: less reliance on coal, the struggling economy, new consumer habits including a switch to more fuel efficient vehicles and adapting energy efficient choices, higher gasoline prices, slower speed of ocean vessels and warmer weather. Since 2006, U.S. CO2 emissions have fallen by 7.7 percent or 430 million metric tons which is equal to eliminating the annual greenhouse gas emissions from more than 84 million passenger vehicles or more than 53 million homes.
The U.S. is making significant internal progress but to combat climate change widely, U.S. leadership is needed. Climate change has been scientifically proven to be a reality and the presidential candidates should embrace the need to openly discuss it as an issue to be confronted now.