Going for Green: Do Romney and Obama Believe What They Say?

Mitt Romney announced Paul Ryan as his VP pick, much to the despair of environmentalists. However, if President Obama’s recent actions are anything to go by, neither party is running a strong green platform this election cycle. Though headlines would have us believing that Romney denies climate change and President Obama is the “green” candidate, both candidates have far more nuanced positions on energy and environmental issues than the soundbite oriented news cycle suggests.

Take this chart, for example:

ThinkProgress is an excellent website, and while the chart gives a great overview of how the candidates think in terms of green policy, it leaves out the subtleties (as most charts must). It also leaves out a couple of other important issues from the past few months; fracking, mountaintop removal, the Keystone XL pipeline, and the wind energy production tax credit (PTC). President Obama supports the PTC, while Romney has been criticized by fellow Republicans for, “a lack of full understanding of how important the wind energy tax credit is for Iowa and our nation.” I’ll go into the other issues more in-depth below.

Climate Change

The big one. Yes, Obama is the candidate who publicly agrees with 99% of scientists that climate change is occurring, a threat to humanity, and caused by people. But did you know that Romney used to advocate for climate policy? His about-face came about right around the time as he began seriously starting to campaign for President and needed to garner more votes from the Republican party.

Coal

Okay, this is where things start to get seriously confusing. Neither candidate has much to say about mountaintop removal, and they’re both fairly pro-coal (although Obama’s EPA is putting in place some strict measures). To top it off, the Obama campaign ran an ad last week accusing Romney of telling lies by saying (years ago) that coal kills people. However, while the President is pushing for “clean coal” (which we’ll forget for the moment doesn’t actually exist), in 2011 Romney wrote an op-ed in which he claimed,

The Obama administration has severely restricted domestic energy production. I will ensure we utilize to the fullest extent our nation’s nuclear know-how and immense reserves in oil, gas and coal. By rationalizing and streamlining regulation, we will harness these resources everywhere it can be done safely, taking into account local concerns. A huge number of jobs is at stake. So, too, is the price of energy, which strongly influences economic growth. We are an energy-rich country that, thanks to environmental extremism, has chosen to live like an energy-poor country. That has to end.

If I don’t agree with President Obama, I’m even more concerned by Mitt Romney’s definition of “safe.” But then again, Romney has actually received a lot of money from super PACs with green streaks.

Natural Gas

Really, the Romney quote above says it all. Unfortunately, though President Obama is taking some measures to regulate fracking, the industry is moving forward faster than policy is keeping up. It can be difficult to find out about violations, never mind report them. And the President’s rules give plenty of leeway to the fracking industry, by requiring they report the chemicals used only after they have completed drilling.

Oil

Some of my friends like to talk about “Campaign Obama” versus “President Obama.” While “Campaign Obama” talked plenty about “change we can believe in,” “President Obama” came out against the Keystone XL Pipeline this November only to turn around again and aprove the Southern half of the pipeline mid-winter. Romney is clearly in favor of the pipeline; as far as I can tell, he’s never said anything else. My question: is there a difference between “Campaign Romney” and the potential “President Romney?” Would Romney as president look more like Romney as governor? I won’t stake my vote on such a shaky bet, but based on Obama’s energy and environment track record, I’m no longer sure if I’ll vote for him either.

Overall

Naomi Wolf has an interesting article in the Guardian where she cites John Wihbey’s study, “Shifting Public Opinion on Climate Change: An Empirical Assessment of Factors Influencing Concern over Climate Change in the US, 2002–2010.”

Wolf writes,

“Wihbey and colleagues’ study found that this fluctuation [in concern about climate change] was caused by, among other factors, political polarization. In other words, when one party says global warming is a crisis and the other says all that is nonsense, and there is no cooperation between political elites at both ends of the spectrum, the net result is apathy.

The two strongest effects on public concern are Democratic congressional action statements and Republican roll-call votes, which increase and diminish public concern, respectively. This finding points to the effect of [a] polarized political elite that is emitting contrary cues, with resulting (seemingly) contrary levels of public concern.

They found, ominously, that the level and quality of good information in the general media at large had little effect on people’s levels of concern – indeed, weather events themselves had little bearing on people’s levels of climate-related anxiety or interest. Only the combination of media coverage and expressed alarm from political leaders bumped up public concern.”

If that’s the case, the prospects for this election are ominous. Though recent weather has amped up the number of articles citing climate change as a threat and cause for concern, political leaders — including President Obama and Mitt Romney — have been conspicuously silent on the topic. I have a feeling that’s going to change, as the environmental movement is gearing up to make a lot of noise. However, unless politicians and the media respond, this election is a bad sign for anyone (and that’s all of us) affected by energy and the environment.