If Obama Wants To Be Re-Elected, He Needs To Break His Climate Silence

by Brad Johnson

Years ago, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney spoke forcefully about the need for action on global warming:

We cannot afford more of the same timid politics when the future of our planet is at stake. Global warming is not a someday problem, it is now.” — Barack Obama in 2007

I concur that climate change is beginning to effect on our natural resources and that now is the time to take action toward climate protection.” — Mitt Romney in 2003

But during this election, they’ve been silent about the key facts of global warming and how they plan to address it. In the past four years, Americans have been struck by a barrage of billion-dollar climate disasters, driven by increasing greenhouse pollution from fossil fuels. From record heat waves to increasingly powerful storms, crushing droughts to unprecedented flooding, the impacts of climate change are now squarely being felt within our borders. Yet, amazingly, the clear and present danger of carbon-poisoned weather remains largely absent from this year’s presidential election. chronicles this slow, collective descent toward mute acceptance of global calamity. While many in the media have noted the general trend, this site from Forecast the Facts and Friends of the Earth Action lays out in painstaking detail just how far our national conversation has drifted from where it needs to be. also provides an opportunity for American voters concerned about the climate crisis to speak out and let the candidates know that they want the silence to end, with a petition that states:

I implore you to explain how you will address the growing climate crisis if elected to the nation’s highest office, not only for the Americans being affected right now, but for the sake of future generations, including your children.

In 2008, both political parties nominated presidential candidates — Barack Obama and John McCain — who promised to address the climate crisis with mandatory caps on carbon pollution. Four years later, the arithmetic of climate change has become even more dire. Yet the rhetoric of the 2012 candidates has moved in the opposite direction. For President Obama, climate change has gone from an “urgent” challenge worthy of major speeches and comprehensive legislation, to an afterthought, fleetingly mentioned at occasional campaign events. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, has backpedaled from weak acknowledgement of the basic science to outright mockery of the carbon crisis. While there is clearly a difference between these two positions, neither come anywhere near the honesty and leadership that the problem demands.

The climate constituency is large and growing. Consulting group Breakthrough Strategies recently commissioned a nationwide poll of likely voters, using the same polling firm that assisted President Obama during his 2008 campaign. The poll found that three out of four Americans have noticed a serious shift in extreme weather patterns, are concerned about the problem, and want to hear about solutions. In August, the Center for Climate Change Communication (4C) conducted a national survey of registered voters, and found a solid majority consider a candidates’ stand on global warming when deciding who to support. As Ed Maibach told National Journal:

It’s very much in the president’s interest to take a pro-climate stance, because it will win him votes.

The candidate who speaks out on climate change will reap the political rewards of brave and forthright leadership. Despite the widespread public interest, it may seem like it’s easier for the candidates to avoid the subject of humanity’s influence on the global climate. Because of the difficult decisions our nation needs to make about carbon emissions, even communicating the science of climate change elicits vicious political attacks. The job of the President of the United States is never easy — monied interests will stop at almost nothing to protect their own power even at the expense of the American people. Voters are aware of the onslaught of outside money already being spent influencing this election. Rather than fearing attack from fossil fuel interests and avoiding climate discussion, candidates can score a political advantage by leveling with voters about Big Oil and King Coal’s corrosive power, the Breakthrough poll found.

In demanding that the candidates speak honestly and directly about how they would address climate change if elected, we must all break our own silence on the scope and nature of the climate challenge. This is no easy task. Addressing the poisoning of our weather by fossil-based energy will require major shifts in our society — in policy, in personal behavior, even in consciousness. And we have no doubt that the severity of the crisis is one of the reasons the candidates are avoiding it.

But Americans of all political persuasions agree that the job of the President of the United States is to explain existing threats to the public welfare, and lead the nation in tackling them head on. Even when those threats put the very survival of our nation at risk. That is what the Republican Abraham Lincoln did when he confronted a nation at war with itself. It’s what the Democrat Franklin Roosevelt did when he spoke to a nation beset by crushing economic collapse. And it’s what both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney should do as they make their case to take the highest office in the land.

To be sure, talking about climate change will not be enough. What is needed is bold action, and that will require overcoming any number of practical and political challenges. But it is also true that not talking about climate change guarantees that our nation will not respond with the intensity and urgency required. In that sense, the equation is simple: words alone won’t save us, but silence seals our fate. It’s time for the silence to end.

Brad Johnson is the campaign manager of Forecast the Facts.

28 Responses to If Obama Wants To Be Re-Elected, He Needs To Break His Climate Silence

  1. Mark E says:

    This is about Obama and global warming… bear with me.

    With prior nuke bomb programs we opted for a strategy of containment, but with Iran Obama having rejected containment. Foreign policy pundits I read seem to think that leaves diplomacy, sanctions, and military action… and if the first two fail the latter is necessary to maintain our international standing as a power.

    Suppose we end up fighting with Iran… that will almost certainly shut down the Strait of Hormuz for awhile, and quite possibly destroy many oil export facilities in the region.

    Question: What will that do to energy markets, foreign and domestic, be they fossil fuels or renewables?

  2. It’s not enough to talk about about general polling in terms of the reelection of Obama, which remains absolutely vital for the possibility of rescuing the biosphere as we know and depend upon it.

    The critical electoral issues have to do with a subset of voters in a subset of states. It’s dumb, but that’s the way it really works in the US these days.

    So much as I totally agree that climate silence does have to end, it’s hard for me to grasp the point of such proclamations as this, that preach what to say without actually connecting the tactical dots, within this specific election countdown timeframe.

  3. Stephen Lacey says:

    My personal belief: You have to “prime the pump” so to speak. If you have complete silence and then try to approach the issue after the election cycle is over, I think it’s a lot harder to get things done.

  4. Will says:

    I’m very on board with getting Obama and other candidates to talk more about climate change. I made efforts to make it an issue in my local Congressional race that you can read about at my blog. That needs to happen everywhere, and I know many reporters don’t rank it as a top issue.

    But, the exaggeration about Obama being “silent” on climate change really doesn’t inspire me to be involved with this group. You can argue that he left it out of a couple major speeches (while including it in most) and that he should talk about it more forcefully. But claiming he was ever silent is simply not true. It’s hard for me to get motivated about something that starts from a point of intellectual dishonesty. I’m not motivated by the common knee-jerk cynicism about Obama.
    Advancing the claim that Obama is silent only reinforces the impression that it’s a politically unpopular, risky issue for politicians to bring up. That doesn’t seem helpful. I’d rather criticize the press for ignoring Obama when he does bring up climate change instead of helping them downplay it.

  5. Dan Ives says:

    “So much as I totally agree that climate silence does have to end, it’s hard for me to grasp the point of such proclamations as this, that preach what to say without actually connecting the tactical dots, within this specific election countdown timeframe.” – Why must everything be a tactical decision? Maybe climate silence should end because that’s the right thing to do?

  6. BobbyL says:

    As I remember the 2008 campaign, it was John Edwards who was the leading voice when it came to climate change. Obama, seemed to reluctantly take on the issue to counter Edwards. Since John McCain was also pushing for action on climate change Obama had to deal with the issue after he was nominated and supported a cap and trade bill. Once in office Obama seemed to be backing up his words when he appointed John Holdren as his chief science adviser and Steven Chu as Secretary of the Department of Energy but since then he has grown progressively less ambitious with taking on the issue. Probably this had something to do with listening to his political advisers such as David Axelrod. It appears now that he is more or less willing to kick the can down the road. In fact, it has been reported that the US wants flexibility on the 2C target. In other words, Obama doesn’t seem to have problems with catastrophic climate change. Where does he draw the line?

  7. Jill Stein is not and will not be silent. Sept. 30 Digital Town Hall w/ Bill McKibben.

  8. Will says:

    Obama mentioned climate change and clean energy several times in his first campaign announcement speech and it was part of his regular stump speech throughout the ’08 campaign.

    He was the first major party nominee to make clean energy and climate change a major theme of his campaign. Kerry and Gore didn’t.

    Obama made the stimulus bill focus on clean energy and efficiency projects. Then he got three rounds of auto-emissions and mileage standards, and he’s pushing forward with EPA regulations that will cripple the coal industry. He has done more good on energy than any previous President times ten.

    The biggest obstacles to more progress were Republicans and fossil fuel Democrats in the Senate who blocked an energy bill. So, I’m not sure why more attention isn’t being given to pressuring Congress.

  9. Will says:

    Barack Obama is has not been silent. When Jill Stein claims that Obama’s environmental policies are no better than Bush’s it makes it impossible for me to take anything she says seriously. She’s either ignorant of what Obama has done or she’s simply pandering to liberal cynicism.

  10. Henry says:

    Re; “Kicking the can down the road…”
    What do you expect the US and its leaders to do when Canada, Japan, Russia and China and others have done the same? It would be political suicide for any US president to go head long into a recession prolonging attempt to increase CO2 targets while many othe big emitters do nothing. Look what is happening to the Gillard administration in Australia. They are being run out of town on a rail for the Carbon tax.
    Yes, we need to do more here in the US. But let’s be sensible about blaming our presidents at this particular time.

  11. Chris Winter says:

    There is a petition from the League of Conservation Voters asking Jim Lehrer to put a climate change question in the first presidential debate on 3 October.

    Details here

  12. BobbyL says:

    You forgot a few things. Obama reversed himself and began supporting offshore oil drilling. He now supports oil drilling in the Arctic no less. He has always supported “clean coal.” He supports fracking for natural gas and oil. He supports using tar sand oil. He allowed leasing of land for coal mining in Powdered Ridge so it could be shipped to China. He went to Copenhagen in 2009 and instead of fighting for a legally binding climate treaty he came away with a meaningless voluntary agreement. Wnen a cap and trade bill was stalled in the Senate he said absolutely nothing to support the bill. It’s no wonder we are still heading for 6C global warming with Obama in office. Fossil fuel Democrats are a problem but he is a fossil fuel Democrat. He supports oil, coal, and natural gas, all fossil fuels.

  13. Chris says:

    If Obama Wants to be Re-Elected, He Needs to Just Let Romney Keep Talking

  14. BobbyL says:

    Nor will former Salt Lake City mayor and Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson. Here is a speech he gave on climate change

  15. Dave Yuhas says:

    Get real. Given the quality of his opponent, Obama doesn’t have to say a word about climate change. And probably won’t.

  16. Mike Roddy says:

    I think Obama is going to win anyway, which should be more reason for him to do the right thing. Does that mean anything to any of those guys?

  17. Mike Roddy says:

    Romney, however, could win with this issue. If Romney announced at one of the debates that his administration would embark on an emergency program to develop clean energy, victory would be his. Announcing that all of the oil and coal companies’ support was no longer welcome, and that he would return their campaign contributions, would lead to a landslide.

    Here’s why it won’t happen: he’s not enough of a man. Obama has the same problem. It takes balls to do this, even if they eventually end up being Hillary’s.

  18. Ozonator says:

    President Obama also came out in favor of a renewed push for atomic power a few weeks before Japan’s meltdown. The Japanese people are light-years more scientifically advanced that our extremist Republicans and Christians, their extremist media outlets and drooping pole numbers, and the horse they rode in on.

  19. Ozonator says:

    ExxonMobil in Baton Rouge will create 43 polluting jobs without Mitt. Their extremist Republican and Christian Senator David Vitter wants a bill to steal from our power company Entergy if they don’t put a trunk line into his hot-tub time machine. Typical GOP, after ruining the country’s credit rating, they won’t keep Iowa’s wind power going costing hundreds of jobs and covering their county roads with monster snowdrifts or flooding destined for Oklahoma’s igloos. This stuff is noisy on a local and regional level. The most silence that I “see” is the Looter Limbaugh types unable to pay the north pole tax with withered body parts, cherry picking from hacked emails, usual zombie talking points with a 1-step scientific method, and PBS’s informercial.

  20. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    With the effort that the Republicans are putting into cleansing the rolls of the poor, blacks and Hispanics, Romney may yet make it.

  21. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Is he an ex-Mormon?

  22. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I’d vote for her- early and often!

  23. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Well, he might say that, and then, in the current universal Rightwing fashion, after he is elected that promise will become ‘inoperative’. Or as John Howard announced after his first election in 1996, certain promises were ‘non-core’, a term, naturally, never heard before the election.

  24. John McCormick says:

    Will, you speak with logic.

    Though, we all have to recognize a damned reality that the US Congress will decide the fate of a climate treaty and to get tht passed will require a heck of a lot more Democrats and honest legislators who understand the fate of the earth’s biosphere rests in their hands.

  25. BobbyL says:

    What does that have to do with climate change?

  26. Brad Johnson’s piece seems to be partly about getting elected, and partly about doing the right thing.

    95% of the time I do believe we should speak up just because it’s the right thing to do.

    5% of the time, tactical finesse is an appropriate refinement. Like, the last two months of 48, while people are actually voting to choose the next President, through our whacky system.

    I agree that the case is stunningly clear that the President needs to speak up more, strategically. I’m not convinced the headline of this posting is supported by the facts presented.

    I’d love to see climate change come out as an issue in the debates!

  27. Merrelyn Emery says:

    The carbon price is in effect now and people are seeing that the opposition exaggerated wildly. The govt isn’t done for yet, ME

  28. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Idle curiosity, and the belief that adherence to the unbelievable balderdash of Mormon ‘theology’ does not impress one with the adherent’s intellectual credentials. To be an apostate from such idiocy seems, to me, a sign of some intelligence.