Three Climate And Energy Debate Questions For Mitt Romney And Barack Obama

by Daniel J. Weiss

In the 2008 presidential debates, moderators Tom Brokaw (2nd debate) and Bob Schieffer (3rd debate) asked presidential nominees Barack Obama and John McCain about climate change and reducing American dependence on oil.  Both candidates vigorously supported reductions in carbon pollution, though the means to that end differed.

Since that election, the scientific evidence that climate change is real and human caused has only grown.  The health impact and economic costs of the extreme weather events and record temperatures of 2010, 2011, and 2012 are a 10-alarm warning that climate change poses a real threat to Americans and the world. And unlike in 2008, there is a clear difference between the candidates on whether to slow this looming disaster, let alone how to solve it.

The first 2012 Presidential debate in Denver on October 3rd is scheduled to cover the economy. Our energy future and response to climate change is as relevant to jobs, taxes, spending, and deficits as any other questions. A coalition of environmental groups just delivered 160,000 signatures to first debate moderator Jim Lehrer to “urging him to ask President Obama and Governor Romney about climate change during the first presidential debate next week.” Hopefully Lehrer will respond to this public view by asking at least one question related to climate change and clean energy.

Since the candidates have very different positions on the issues, Lehrer should pose different questions to them. Below are some suggestions, along with some background information on them.

1. Governor Romney, as governor you acknowledged that climate change was real and human induced.  Since then the scientific consensus behind this finding has only grown stronger, including a 2010 National Academy of Sciences report that determined that the “climate is changing and that these changes are in large part caused by human activities.”

What scientific evidence led to your recent questioning of the scientific consensus that climate change is real and human induced?  And what evidence led to your current opposition to any carbon pollution reduction program?

Background: Recent Romney response about climate change to The Top American Science Questions: 2012:

I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences. However, there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue — on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution, and the severity of the risk — and I believe we must support continued debate and investigation within the scientific community.

In 2010, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that there is more than ample evidence to act now to reduce the pollution responsible for climate change.

There is a strong, credible body of evidence, based on multiple lines of research, documenting that climate is changing and that these changes are in large part caused by human activities. While much remains to be learned, the core phenomenon, scientific questions, and hypotheses have been examined thoroughly and have stood firm in the face of serious scientific debate and careful evaluation of alternative explanations.

Even a Koch Foundation funded researcher found that climate change is real and human induced. Dr. Richard Muller, a former climate change skeptic, recently conducted a lengthy analysis of temperature data partially funded by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. This research project concluded that climate change is real and human induced. He wrote in the New York Times:

Following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

Former Romney support for action on global warming, from the Boston Globe November 8, 2005:

Governor Mitt Romney signaled his support yesterday for a regional agreement among Northeastern states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, despite opposition from power companies and other business interests that have been lobbying the administration against the plan.

2. Gov. Romney, you said that businesses need regulatory certainty and predictably to thrive.  American auto companies and workers support the Obama administration’s modernized fuel economy standards since they provide them with both.  Additionally, the standards will save drivers money by reducing gasoline purchases, and reduce carbon pollution responsible for climate change.  Why do you oppose these standards when they are a win-win-win?

Background: Romney campaign on Obama’s finalized auto standards for Model Years 2017-2025:

“Gov. Romney opposes the extreme standards that President Obama has imposed, which will limit the choices available to American families,” said campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “The president tells voters that his regulations will save them thousands of dollars at the pump, but always forgets to mention that the savings will be wiped out by having to pay thousands of dollars more upfront for unproven technology that they may not even want.”

3. President Obama, you said during your acceptance speech that “Yes, my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet.” During your first term you made steep carbon pollution reductions from motor vehicles, and proposed the first limit on pollution from power plants.  What specific steps will you take to achieve further carbon pollution reductions as part of your second term agenda?  Will you discuss the specifics of these plans with Americans during the campaign?

Background: Obama acceptance speech September 6, 2012:

And yes, my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet – because climate change is not a hoax.  More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke.  They’re a threat to our children’s future.

What questions do you want to see the candidates asked?

Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow with the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

12 Responses to Three Climate And Energy Debate Questions For Mitt Romney And Barack Obama

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    Romney will answer those questions with verbal contortions. He won’t betray the oil companies, but will try to give independents a little bone if he can. No doubt Lunz has figured out the phrasing for him. Whatever Romney says here will be content free.

    The fossi fuel crowd now knows Romney’s a loser, but he accomplished his purpose in moving the climate debate so far to the right. Anything Obama does now makes him look good in comparison. Unfortunately, it is not likely to be good enough. I’d like to see the question addressed to Obama about his action plan phrased more sharply- it’s too much of a softball.

  2. HuffPo_ClimateHawk says:

    I’m interested in knowing if either candidate shows an understanding of the scale of action and time frame needed to prevent the worst consequences of climate change.

    But I am most interested in hearing what President Obama will say.

    President Obama, I want to hear you say that we will do whatever it takes to prevent the worst consequences of climate change. Will you make that pledge?

    Follow up: Do you accept the estimate made by NASA’s Dr. James Hansen that we need to aim for atmospheric CO2 levels no greater than 350 ppm?

    I would accept a general promise of leadership and action focused on a clear end result rather than a list of specific steps that might be directionally correct but totally inadequate.

    Lacking that, I do not plan to vote for President Obama.

  3. BillD says:

    We can only hope that part of the question to Romney emphasizes both the scientific consensus, including the National Academy of Sciences and his former support for action on climate and maybe his former support for green energy.

    The former Governor Romney would not have been my choice for president, but Govenor Romney, whose main achievements were universal health care for Massachesetts and some leadership on climate and renewable energy would have been an unacceptable choice. It’s totally strange that he now runs against his main achievements as governor.

  4. BillD says:

    I meant to say: “would not have been an unacceptable choice.” Sorry, I should have editing out the double negative.

  5. Joan Savage says:

    How much of the federal budget would you give to emergency management services and reconstruction funding that respond to the effects of extreme weather?

    Would you fund research on food crops and animal breeds that are more tolerant of heat and drought?

    These are examples of yes/no and near-future policy questions that are hard to wiggle around. There could be other questions like them.

  6. I would ask Obama why he maintains that climate change is a problem for “our children” when in fact it’s a problem now.

    Ask both candidates if they think there is a connection between the Midwest drought, this year’s extreme temperatures and weather events, the arctic ice loss and human greenhouse gas emissions.

    If we get any questions about climate change, they will probably be softball questions. But that’s the media, PBS included.

  7. Dick Smith says:

    As an active member of, I find your unwillingness to support Obama over Romney deeply disappointing. It certainly is not what McKibben is saying.

  8. Dick Smith says:

    The best science tells us we need to reduce fossil fuel emissions by 80% by 2050. Do you believe that our energy policy must be based on our best science?

    Will you support a small federal tax on carbon that grows annually until we reduce our emissions to safe levels, based on the best science?

    If so, does your support for a federal carbon tax depend on whether the revenue is returned 100% (that is, it’s revenue neutral–as either a rebate or in lieu of other taxes) or whether it is used 100% to reduce the deficit? Which approach do you prefer?

  9. Dick Smith says:

    Obama. Are there any fossil fuel subsidies that you would NOT eliminate?

    Romney. Are there any fossil fuel subsidies that you would eliminate?

  10. Dick Smith says:

    Religious, environmental and other opinion leaders have recently petitioned both candidates to convene a “climate summit” early next year. If elected, would you convene a climate summit?

  11. HuffPo_ClimateHawk says:

    I’m very willing to support President Obama.

    As soon as he gets real about the climate.

  12. Robert Nagle says:

    My question: Bill McKibben and others have stated that the only way to limit global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius is to leave 80% of proven reserves of fossil fuels in the ground. Do you agree with this assessment? What policies do you support which will actually accomplish this?