The Climate Silence Continues: Lehrer, Obama, And Romney Ignore Climate Change In First Debate

Big Bird might have been one the most popular trends on Twitter during the first presidential debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. But as tonight’s wide ranging discussion on domestic issues unfolded, #climatesilence got some decent play as well. Sadly, not because the candidates broke their silence on the issue.

Here are two tweets that sum up the lack of attention on climate issues:

And this one from climate activist Bill McKibben:

If you watched the real-time reaction to the debates, the disappointment among folks within the energy and environment community over the lack of attention to climate was palpable. Even with 160,000 signatures delivered to PBS’ Jim Lehrer calling on him to ask the candidates about climate change, the issue was completely ignored during the 90 minute conversation — continuing a long streak of silence throughout the campaign.

Apparently, neither of the candidates — particularly Obama — has been watching the polls showing that climate could be a major factor in how undecided and Independent voters cast their ballots.

Energy issues were sprinkled throughout the debate, however. The mentions were focused mostly on domestic drilling and clean energy spending. Obama stuck to his talking points about developing “new sources of energy,” repealing billions in tax credits for the oil & gas industry, and supporting an “all of the above” energy strategy. But other than making fluffy statements about supporting clean energy, Obama didn’t make any specific claims on the issue that required fact checking.

Romney, on the other hand, made a number of more specific, inaccurate statements on the issues:

1. “Gas prices have doubled under Obama.”

When Obama came into office, he was dealing with the impact of the greatest financial crisis and economic collapse since the Great Depression. That’s why gas prices were so low; demand had declined substantially. Even the Cato Institute and the Wall Street Journal have pointed out this obvious fact: “When Mr. Obama was inaugurated, demand was weak due to the recession. But now it’s stronger, and thus the price is higher.”

Here’s a chart that shows what happened to gas prices during the recession:

And as many analysts have pointed out, presidents have little control over oil and gasoline prices: Oil prices are set on the global market, which is controlled by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, a cartel. High oil prices are responsible for high gasoline prices: The cost of crude oil was 64 percent of the cost of a gallon of gas in September 2012.

2. “All of the increase in natural gas and oil has happened on private land, not on government land.”

Under Obama, domestic energy production has soared: The number of oil drilling rigs have quadrupled in number over the past three years. This has brought U.S. oil imports to the lowest level since 1996. And the Congressional Research Service issued a report showing that oil drilling on federal lands is higher, not lower. According to CRS, production from federal lands is up slightly in 2011 when compared to 2007. In addition, the oil and gas industry is sitting on 7,000 approved permits to drill, that it hasn’t begun exploring or developing.

3. “About half of [the clean energy companies that] have been invested in have gone out of business.”

This is blatantly false. In this statement, Romney is conflating the loan guarantee program with all economy-wide clean energy companies. And even when isolating the loan guarantee program that supported the bankrupt solar company Solyndra, an independent investigation led by John McCain’s former finance chairman found that these investments will cost $2 billion less than initially expected. That’s because most of the loan guarantees are going toward companies developing large-scale electricity generation projects with long-term agreements for the energy.

(Michael Grunwald, who literally wrote the book on the stimulus package, estimates that about 1 percent of the stimulus-funded clean-energy firms failed, not 50 percent. “Seriously, that was the lie of the night,” he said.)

4. “In one year, you provided $90 billion in tax breaks to green energy.”

This is also a piece of masterful spin, though not an outright lie. Since the stimulus package was passed, the Department of Energy has put $90 billion toward grants, loan guarantees, R&D programs, competitive prizes, and demonstration projects — everything we need in order to build a foundation to allow clean energy to scale. They are not all tax breaks and they were not all implemented in one year as Romney claimed. And according to the Government Accountability Office (h/t Washington Post), fossil fuel subsidies outnumbered clean energy investments 4 to 1 before the stimulus package was put in place.

What have these clean energy investments spawned? Renewable electricity has doubled in the last four years; we’ve built some of the most innovative “first of a kind” renewable energy projects in the world; content sourced from domestic wind manufacturing has doubled; we’ve created more than 100,000 direct and indirect jobs in the solar industry; and leveraged $100 billion in private investments.

Daniel J. Weiss, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, contributed to this piece.

31 Responses to The Climate Silence Continues: Lehrer, Obama, And Romney Ignore Climate Change In First Debate

  1. nyc-tornado-10 says:

    The next president will have to deal with the loss of most of the arctic ice cap, and a catastrophic shift in the climate of the northern hemisphere it will cause. Shame on jim lehrer, he failed to bring up the most important issue of the decade, century, millenium, and all human history. Maybe romney is right in endind funding for lehrer (but not big bird!).

  2. Of course Lehrer isn’t going to ask about climate change. NPR is now sponsored by the American Natural Gas Alliance.

  3. Will says:

    Would I be correct in assuming that the $90 billion figure also includes the many subsidies and tax breaks the stimulus gave to coal? Such as, loan guarantees and tax breaks for carbon capture projects that Romney said he supports. They were substantial.

  4. ColoradoBob says:

    Lloyd’s Analyzes Repercussions of Thai Flood Losses a Year Late

    The economic cost of the floods has reached $45.7 billion, according to the World Bank. “For insurance and reinsurance companies, the total claims tally – much of it from business interruption and contingent business interruption – came to an estimated $12 billion, according to figures from Swiss Re. Lloyd’s share of this was $2.2 billion.”

    The supply chain disruptions led to a reexamination of the threats posed to companies dependent on the constant delivery of industrial components. Lloyd’s points out that “as a major producer of hard drives, the floods meant producers of PCs and servers were unable to access component parts as easily. As a result, the cost of hard drives more than doubled.

  5. David Goldstein says:

    This is the hand we are playing at present, ladies and gentlemen; when all is said and done, at this point, climate change is a marginal issue. Of course, those of us with the passion to see this through shall keep working to figure out how to spread the ‘good news’. And, of course, things will have to get ‘several sigmas’ worse, at least, before actual substantive carbon reduction is even a serious consideration. This is very sobering. Through the suffering to come, perhaps -just perhaps – we will learn to mature as a species. Right now we remain, for the most part, in a fitful and petulant adolescence.

  6. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    PBS, like all public broadcasting in the West, and all the MSM, and all their functionaries, are absolutely controlled by the Right and business interests, in a straight totalitarian arrangement. Denying climate destabilisation is the Right and capital’s prime obsession, as decarbonisation threatens tens of trillions in assets. The denialists are not backing off one inch, and never will. Whether they are more mad, and think that they can survive ecological ruin while 90% of humanity perishes, or more evil, in that they just couldn’t give a damn, or both at once, is a matter for debate.

  7. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    I am glad that in the US Presidential Election Campaign CLIMATE CHANGE is getting Focus.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  8. Could they be both Mad and Evil? Could they be ……..Satan?

    One does have to wonder whether their evilness drove them mad, or their madness made them evil.

  9. Obama seemed a little timorous tonight. I think he is playing it cautious to protect his slight lead in the polls. So bringing up climate change seems scary to him, even though polls show its a winner for Democrats.

    If he is reelected, and he probably will be, he will likely have to confront climate change during the first year of his second term, which will also be the second year of the massive Midwestern drought. Certainly climate Change will be on everybody’s agenda by the year after that.

    Two years from now MIGHT not be too late to start a crash decarbonization program. We’ll have to wait and see — unfortunately.

  10. sailrick says:

    Much of subsidies falling under the heading of renewable energy, is for corn based ethanol, which is promoted mainly by big corporations with vested interests, Big Ag etc.

  11. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Marginal? Only if you think money and taxes are something separate from the health of the biosphere. It isn’t adolescence, it’s ignorance, ME

  12. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I really cannot comprehend a greater evil than actively working to sabotage human understanding and action regarding the ecological collapse of the planet’s life-support systems for our species. All the great religions, philosophies and creative geniuses have struggled with the question of evil-whence it comes, what does it say about our species, can it ever be defeated. And human evil has, at last, reached its apotheosis, where its destructiveness has become suicidal, even omnicidal. That, I think, is the really great failure of the sane and rational fraction of humanity. Not to speak of radical evil for what it truly is.

  13. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    There is, I believe, more than one human species. The life affirming, humane and rational species sees our great moral, spiritual and existential peril, but are being actively thwarted in acting to save itself by another ‘human’ species entirely, amongst whom ignorance, stupidity, greed and egomania rule supreme.

  14. MarkfromLexington says:

    What are the real numbers on subsidies/incentives given to wind and solar compared to oil, gas and coal?

  15. Anne says:

    Romney told us exactly how he feels about climate change: “I LIKE COAL.” Romney now has climate amnesia and can’t recall his more informed positions of the past and is now entirely been bought by the coal/oil/gas folks. It’s fairly clear. As for Obama, his utter silence on this is deafening. He’s definitely been read the riot act by funders on this. No other explanation.

  16. ColoradoBob says:

    The rising costs of floods are creating challenges for the insurance industry and the economic viability of flood insurance is currently an issue under scrutiny.

    “2011’s $12 billion insured losses in Thailand really highlighted the potential for flood to cause extreme losses. The insured losses corresponded to 1,800 percent of the country’s total annual property premium,” said Jens Mehlhorn, head of flood at Swiss Re. “This emphasises the difficulties the industry faces in creating an economically viable approach to flood insurance.”

  17. Lore says:

    Recent studies have shown almost a total lack of interest in climate change by “generation X”, who will soon be taking the reins of political power. They feel the issue is too big, too complex, too divisive and ultimately too difficult to solve. Besides they’re pretty sure it won’t effect them right now.

    Call it a human defect, but we as a species may all be doomed to meet our end because of our complacency. The brainless frog lives on, at least for a while longer.

  18. Mike Roddy says:

    Another issue is that Lehrer has always been a timid company man. These kinds of people are selected for, as old school reporters are an extinct species.

    It comes back to corporate control of the media, which will block change to the end.
    Many fossil fuel companies are invested in PBS, and have tentacles to all of our media organs. They have minders to make sure that their money is protected. It is sick and evil, as Philip and Mulga pointed out.

  19. Susan says:

    No one should have expected any mention of climate in the “debates”.
    From an interview on yesterday’s Democracy Now!…..GEORGE FARAH ( He’s the founder and Executive Director of Open Debates, the author of “No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Parties Secretly Control the Presidential Debates.” ): The Commission on Presidential debates sounds like a government agency, it sounds like a nonpartisan entity, which is by design, is intended to deceive the American people. But, in reality, it is a private corporation financed by Anheuser-Busch and other major companies, that was created by the Republican and Democratic parties to seize control of the presidential debates from The League of Women Voters in 1987. Precisely as you said, Amy, every four years, this commission allows the major party campaigns to meet behind closed doors and draft a secret contract, a memorandum of understanding that dictates many of the terms.”

    It would have been a career ender for Lehrer to break the agreement and attempt to moderate a real debate, or include unapproved questions.

  20. Zarrakan says:

    Vote Democrat. At least Democrats support continued clean energy development.

    The Republicans would have you all choking on toxic fumes in no time.

    What the Republicans want is the complete destruction/subjugation of the non-rich to give everything to RICH WHITE YOUNG STRAIGHT MEN. Unemployment will do nothing but increase wherever Republicans have power. I made a video about unemployment, and how we can fix it. It’s at my YouTube channel Zarrakan, and here’s the name:
    2012 6 5 ZOC Job Pyramid
    Watch it, share it, and join the fight against those who want to kill all of us with destructive social policies.

  21. BillD says:

    I am disappointed in Obama’s overall performance, but debating Romeny had some similarities to debating a creationist or climate denier. Romney doesn’t give any details of his economic plan and its magical ability to reduce taxes, increase spending on the military and reduce the deficit. When Obama attached the plan, Romney simply claimed that Obama did not understand his plan. I also sympathize with Obama’s inability to counter Romney’s highly misleading numbers about renewable energy. The problem is, when your opponent quotes a very exact figure, you can’t just counter it with a general statement, like “that probably includes…’ or that seems too high…”

  22. SecularAnimist says:


    Republicans eat their young.

  23. BobbyL says:

    What do expect after the Democrats and Republicans took the debates away from the League of Women Voters and raised the bar for participation by third party candidates to such a high level that it is almost impossible from any them to be on the stage? Can you imagine global warming not being mentioned if Green Party candidate Jill Stein or Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson were standing behind a podium?

  24. hebintn says:

    Climate change is simply to hot a subject for politicians Democrats or GOPhers to deal with. The fixes that are required step on too many fat corporate toes, and all those toes are on bodies that control too much of the corporatocracy. Science be damned when it flies in the face of business.

  25. Chris Winter says:


    The data are very hard to pin down. Here’s a pie chart showing data for 2002-2008:

    And here’s a list of tax subsidies by industry:

    Consider also this site, a project of the Pew Charitable Trusts:

  26. nyc-tornado-10 says:

    Capitalism is not inherently evil, but it interacts with human nature to bring society to it’s lowest common denominator, thus doing the work of satan or the devil. They used to say “the devil likes idle hands”, but today satan is not interested in lazy people, he wants people who are willing to work hard to complete his evil.

    The biblical story of noah’s flood is understood by many as a society where a ruling elite exploited the masses, bringing their society to great evil and immorality. the civilization of noah’s time is very similar to western civilization, and i regret to say, most like american capitalism.


  27. nyc-tornado-10 says:

    I find it extremely sickening when i see the koch foundation as sposors of science shows on PBS, this is a conflict of interest.

  28. tom farmer says:

    I heard the coal call, too, even downunder. Here’s an idea for mebbe a tee shirt, Anne. “I like coal — that makes me a black sheep” or something similar to suit.

    romney being s sheep breed in these parts and europe of course.

    btw I heard also that romney et all are doing an “Honest Joe” tee shirt, slamming Biden I guess.

    Let’s say tit-for-tat and all that :-)

  29. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    That’s life in the ‘Free World’, brother.

  30. jbinsb says:

    I wonder if they can even understand those concepts, if they can’t understand that taking the ostrich approach will lead to ecological ruin.

  31. jbinsb says:

    He’s 78. Would have been a great way to go out.