Journalism in the Public Interest

Reading Guide: Where Romney and Obama Actually Stand on Global Warming

We’ve looked beyond the candidates’ rhetoric — or lack thereof — to find out where they actually stand on climate change.

The view of storm damage over the Atlantic Coast in New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 31. (Doug Mills/AFP/Getty Images)

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on Tuesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo linked the storm to a broader change in the weather. "I don't call it 'global warming' because you trigger a whole political debate," Cuomo said. "But the frequency of extreme weather is going way up."

President Obama and Mitt Romney have been even more reluctant to utter the words "global warming." Neither candidate mentioned climate change over four presidential debates and none of the moderators asked about it — the first time that's happened since 1988.

Obama has barely spoken of it on the campaign trail, while Romney has mocked the president's earlier promise to address climate change.

As reporters and scientists discuss what role climate change may have played in fueling the storm, we've looked beyond the candidates' rhetoric — or lack thereof — to find out where they actually stand:

Mitt Romney

In his speech at the Republican National Convention, Romney cited Obama's 2008 campaign promise on global warming. "My promise," Romney retorted, "is to help you and your family." The crowd laughed, then cheered:

Romney hasn't always been clear, or consistent, about what he believes is causing global warming.

In October 2011 he said, "We don't know what's causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us."

This September, he wrote that he believed "the world is getting warmer," and "human activity contributes to that warming" but that there was a lack of scientific consensus on the extent of the problem. He reiterated his position that regulations meant to combat climate change could hurt economic growth.

Romney's campaign focuses its environmental platform on "energy independence."

To get the U.S. exclusively on North American oil by 2020, Romney wants to promote oil and gas production in the U.S. by opening new areas for drilling, and increase imports from Mexico and Canada, including via the Keystone XL Pipeline. Reuters recently profiled "Romney's energy tsar," the Oklahoma oilman Harold Hamm, who helped produce Romney's white paper on energy policy. The plan doesn't mention climate change, or outline steps to reduce oil consumption.

Renewable energy is mentioned, but Romney supports a hands-off approach to its development, saying that the government ought to support it through reduced regulation rather than "playing venture capitalist" and providing subsidies to green energy projects, like the oft-cited, now-bankrupt Solyndra.

Romney has also pledged to reform and repeal many environmental laws and regulations. For instance, he does not think the EPA should consider carbon dioxide a pollutant and seek to regulate its emission. He's also said he will renegotiate Obama's fuel efficiency standards with auto manufacturers.

Some of this goes against Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts. USA Today and the New York Times recently ran through some of the initiatives he presided over, like one that enforced emissions standards on power plants for pollutants, including carbon dioxide. He also directed millions in to a state green energy fund and offered tax credits to businesses and individuals for efficiency upgrades. Romney helped draft a cap-and-trade program for New England, but in the end did not sign on to it because he believed it to be too costly. He now says he's firmly against cap-and-trade.

President Obama

Back in the 2008 campaign, climate change was one of the few issues that Obama and his Republican rival, John McCain, agreed on. McCain reiterated his support for a "cap-and-trade" system to combat climate change at a speech in Oregon. Obama predicted Americans would look back at the election as "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal," and said he would make energy and climate change his first priority.

After his election, Obama did make some moves at least related to climate change. His stimulus bill included funds and incentives for clean energy development, and he appointed Lisa Jackson to head the Environmental Protection Agency, which has pushed for tougher emissions standards for power plants and automobiles. The White House also recently announced new rules requiring automakers to nearly double vehicles' average fuel efficiency by 2025.

But a push to hash out a climate change bill died in the Senate. Sen. Lindsay Graham, a South Carolina Republican, had been a key player in crafting the legislation. But he pulled his support shortly after Fox News broke a story citing "senior administration sources" that Graham was seeking to raise gasoline taxes as part of the legislation.

Two months after Graham's exit, Obama said he knew the votes in the Senate "may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months." But as the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza wrote, "He never found them, and he didn't appear to be looking very hard."

Since then, Obama has largely clammed up about climate change.

He has occasionally cited it, including September when he told the Democratic National Convention that his "plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet — because climate change is not a hoax." But in an unusually candid interview with The Des Moines Register last month that the administration initially insisted remain off the record, Obama sketched out his agenda for a second term, including tackling the deficit and immigration reform. He didn't mention climate change.

So what’s the point of this article? It adds nothing to the debate and lacks any kind of nuance. Romney was the governor of a very blue state who was forced to work with democrats (though he did that as infrequently as he could by his sheer number of vetoes).

Obama was a president with a razor thin majority in congress—a majority pretty much in name only, composed of a number of conservative dems unwilling to support his policies and radical republicans determined to see him fail.

If elected the White House, it seems likely that Romney will not do a thing about climate change; he has said he will pull back policies and support cutting funding for green jobs. If he does get a republican majority in congress, it will be open season on protected lands and a rollback of regulations that protect our water and air (among other things).

Obama, if reelected, probably won’t be able to do much more than he has if the configuration of congress remains the same. But he won’t lose ground either. He certainly doesn’t support rolling back regulations, gutting clean air and water, and opening federal lands to the highest bidder/polluter. If the dems actually get a veto-proof majority and win back the house (or cut the repubs margins), he will probably do more. Or at least as much as he can.

Please stop making a false comparison and whining that President Obama isn’t harping on about climate change. Standing on principle may be noble but being pragmatic affords greater opportunity to actually make a difference—when possibilities allow.

This is not just a US-based condition:
Massive environmental changes have occurred around 2003 or 2004, an area of Brazil’s rain forest as large as the size of France, has been converted to monoculture fields growing soy, for export as animal feed in Europe.
Brazil’s rain forest was considered the lungs of the earth for (ever?), yet a large section no longer exists. Therefore some portion of moisture normally rising up from the forest to form clouds, that deliver rain to that general area has been disrupted. Multiply this by massive monoculture soy, corn and wheat fields across the middle of the US.
Instead, we are being focused on ideas that individuals should burn less gas and use less electricity, whereas global impact from these unsustainable farming practices developed by Big Ag are doing far more environmental damage.
Think either candidate would be bold enough to go after these US-based multi-nationals? This is only one piece missing from any discussion of climate change.

The scope of the article is Romney/Obama Climate Change. As far as that goes, it’s good coverage - and they are saying (much less doing) nothing. My conclusion from all this is we’re going to have to do this without R’s and D’s. Being “pragmatic” as map says is what got us where we are now. Repeatedly we have seen how that is NOT a recipe for success.

It’s time for some people with vision. There are other alternatives besides R’s and D’s.

Minor points: “To get the US exclusively on North American oil by 2020” is a ridiculous premise. Any oil drilled out of North America goes directly to the world market. The the US refiners have to bid on it along with all of the other oil on the world market. The XL pipeline’s sole purpose is to get the oil OUT of North America to ships waiting in the Gulf to take it AWAY. When will people get this? More drilling will not ‘keep the oil here’ and it will not reduce the price of a gallon of gasoline. What it will do is make the fossil fuel industry giants even more wealthy. And those giants are giving gigantic money to both Romney and Obama.

Good point about the 2008 campaign - and cap and trade. Just one more example of how Obama after talking so progressive during the campaign, forgot all of that stuff once elected and became a Republican in action.

There’s a pattern there that will be repeated after Nov. 6.

If we are to survive, we are going to have to start looking at creative, visionary and sometimes uncomfortable approaches.

Voting R or D and then smugly going home and flopping on the couch thinking you’ve done all you can do is going to insure our demise.

to ccrider27:
Further to your outine:
Most Americans are unaware that costs associated with gas extraction via fracking are greater than price these companies can sell it for. US is already producing more N gas than US market demands, even with power plants converting from burning coal to gas.
Therefore, if we extract more N gas, even more will be exported.

As you point out above, this is no path toward energy independence, rather it is a path to even higher corporate profits (in addition to annual Govt handouts).

Meanwhile, low US energy costs (compared with the world) make life difficult for renewables like solar or wind to compete with low N gas prices, and even with low cost solar panels from China.

Big Oil and Gas is already running the country. They are divesting themselves of early “solar and renewable project” investments.

Do we need a major 100-year storm to arrive at their Texas doorsteps each year?

Where is the opportunity for people with new ideas and visionaries to gain traction when we are being presented with smoke and mirrors by both parties and major media channels?

Any wake up call cannot be heard clearly if it is not being made…

See, issues like this bug me.

On the one hand, cleaner power generation, less pollutants, and so forth would be great.  Getting away from oil (which all but requires a nineteenth-century “robber baron” business model to work) is also a great goal.

There also has been (though the last couple of years haven’t borne this out, as far as I know) some warming.

However, linking the two is a terrible premise, and it’s doing nothing but dividing people who should be working together.  Two hundred years ago, Malthus was trying to convince us that lots of poor people are scary, and the Fabianists picked up the idea a hundred years later.  Today, we have Global Warming “proving” that it’s so.

Yet, the people allegedly saving us…they don’t care.  The militaries of the world spew out carbon emissions, with nobody even suggesting privately that we need an electric tank.  Cap and trade was devised by Ken “Enron” Lay, and solves exactly the problems Enron solved, that of extracting the maximum money from people who need energy, basically getting a piece of the action on every single transaction in the country and (presumably) then the world.  And the one single bulwark against carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is completely ignored, trees.

Seriously, plants absorb carbon dioxide as food, prevent erosion (with their root systems), produce oxygen, provide food, and cool their locality both through shade and evaporation.  They’re also a fully scalable “technology,” plantable anywhere and grow WITH increased carbon levels.  It’s basically perfect, if this is the actual cause and effect.

Yet the governments of the world have dozens of plans to trigger a nuclear winter to cool the Earth, which would cause widespread starvation and freezing winters (requiring more oil burned) to decrease the temperature, without one politician or environmental advisor planting a single damned tree.

So Obama and Romney are silent on Artificial Global Warming?  Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.  Let’s get the real environmentalists back to preserve and rebuild ecosystems, instead of treating poor people (the people who burn high-carbon fuels like wood in large numbers) like a blight that needs to be eliminated, rather than people to be helped out of poverty like we used to (the Malthusians and Fabianists notwithstanding).

Carbon sequestration is critically important to reducing natural and man-made (portion?) of ever-rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Few are talking about planting trees.
The Amazon may already be lost, but that does not mean other parts of the world can do this with great effect.

Sad as it is, large corporations have been handed way too much power in the west. New ideas normally come from outside that arena.

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