Silent Summer: Team Obama Defends Gag Order On Climate

“Over increasingly large areas of the United States spring now comes unheralded by the return of birds, and the early mornings are strangely silent where once they were filled with the beauty of bird song.”

Rachel Carson wrote those words in her classic book, Silent Spring, published September 27, 1962.

It’s an ironic coincidence that just as we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of her warning on the unforeseen harm caused by pesticides, we’re experiencing the unforeseen harm caused by fossil fuel combustion — an even graver threat to humans and the biosphere (see “An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts”).

If we stay near our current emissions path, by century’s end, the outdoors may be strangely silent in the summer in large parts of this country and the world, as most species may well be extinct and most (remaining) humans and animals stay indoors (see NASA’s Hansen: “If We Stay on With Business as Usual, the Southern U.S. Will Become Almost Uninhabitable”).

And yet the story of the century gets dwindling media coverage, at most token mention by the president, and, tragically, no mention at all in the highly watched Presidential debates.

Adam Fetcher, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, “defended the president’s silence on climate change during Tuesday’s debate” in an email to The Hill Wednesday:

“Whether it’s on the stump or at the White House, President Obama has long focused on ways to develop clean energy as a core economic pillar. By advocating for the growth of renewable energy, as he did in Tuesday’s debate, President Obama has continually called for action that will address the sources of climate change”….

Fetcher said the differences between Obama and Romney on energy should indicate which candidate is more devoted to mitigating the effects of climate change.

“While Mitt Romney questioned the science behind climate change and mocked it in his convention speech, President Obama will continue to make the case for cleaner American sources of energy that will create jobs and fight climate change,” Fetcher said.

Obama has been widely criticized for this self-imposed gag order on climate. For instance, the great climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert had a piece yesterday in the New Yorker on this:

CLIMATE CHANGE, THE DEBATE’S GREAT UNMENTIONABLE

… the President could never quite bring himself to discuss why it might not be a good idea to burn every gallon — or cubic foot — of fossil fuels we could conceivably bring to the earth’s surface. In the midst of what will almost certainly be the warmest year on record [in the U.S.], climate change has become to the Obama Administration the Great Unmentionable, or, as the blogger Joe Romm has put it, The-Threat-That-Must-Not-Be Named.

The problem with the sort of energy debate we saw on Tuesday is not just that it’s fatuous, though it certainly is that. The problem is that you can’t solve a problem if you don’t even acknowledge it exists. The true challenge facing the next President is not how to bring down gas prices, which may or may not come down as a result of global trends. It’s how to move beyond the tired arguments of the past and act as if the future matters.

In the case of climate change, silence isn’t golden, it is fool’s golden!