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The Climate Silence Continues

J. Mijin Cha

During a long discussion of energy in last night's presidential debates, never once did either Mitt Romney or President Obama say anything about climate change. Instead, the energy discussion seemed to revolve around who would drill more for oil and gas and who could promote coal the most. In commentary after the debates, MSNBC host Chris Hayes noted that talking about energy without talking about climate change is like talking about smoking without talking about cancer. Why can’t the presidential candidates say the words, “climate change?”

Not only is there no discussion on how to address climate change, the policy discussions that do occur are counter to what needs to be done. The continued focus on using more and more fossil fuels and keeping energy prices down will actually ensure we will endure the worst impacts of climate change. As we’ve discussed, we should be decreasing the use of fossil fuels, not looking for every piece of land upon which we can drill. Likewise, energy prices should, and will, increase. While it is important that there are policies in place to protect struggling families, higher gas prices mean more people take public transportation, which is good for both the environment and for household budgets.

So, what gives? Why aren’t the candidates being forced to address what will be one of the greatest issues facing our economy and country? Part of the problem is the difficulty of climate messaging, particularly in our current over-partisan era. It can be difficult to see how reducing energy use on an individual level can make an impact on the overall climate. It is also in the interests of the massive fossil fuel industry to keep people skeptical and minimize the impact of climate change.

Another problem is the role of the media in the U.S.  We highlighted how the U.S. media leads the world in the amount of time, and in turn legitimacy, it gives to climate deniers. As a result, we spend our time arguing over whether or not climate change is occurring and not on what solutions would best address the issue. Plus, the struggling economy means that people naturally prioritize the economy and jobs over climate change, even though policies to combat climate change will create jobs and economic activity.

Yet, even though the media and politicians refuse to address climate change, the American public not only believes in climate change, it makes the link between climate change and extreme weather. Among the public, there is no confusion about how climate change will impact them. Polling from last month found that 74 percent think that global warming is impacting the weather in the U.S. And, the candidates might want to take note, 50 percent of Midwesterners and 56 percent of Southerners say that the weather has been getting worse. The summer droughts had an impact on Midwesterners and 66 percent of them said that droughts were becoming more common over the past few decades.

Without immediate and far-reaching action, extreme heat waves, droughts, and weather patterns will become the norm. We need a meaningful discussion of how the country will face this challenge, not a discussion of who loves fossil fuels the most. The climate silence cannot continue.