The Elephant in the Room: Climate Change and Election 2012
Pop quiz: what’s the least-discussed national security issue of the 2012 election season?
Here’s a hint:
“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans,” said former Governor Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention in August. “And to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family."
"More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They're a threat to our children's future. And in this election, you can do something about it,” said President Obama at the Democratic National Convention. My plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet. Because climate change is not a hoax.”
This was the entire discussion of the environment at either convention by the presidential candidates, even though both agree that climate change is a serious, human-caused phenomenon. A majority of those in the U.S. agree that climate change is a serious issue requiring urgent attention. Climate change is an environmental issue, but as long as it’s seen as “just” an environmental problem, politicians’ efforts to solve it are more likely to be half-hearted. Though both presidential candidates have been too silent on the issue, their comments at the conventions may represent a turning point in the debate.
Climate disruption is the most serious national security issue facing this country that isn't being talked about. Sometimes called global warming, climate change is catch-all term for what is happening to the Earth’s atmosphere. As the world industrialized, tremendous amounts of “heat-trapping” gases were released. These gases are called “greenhouse gases” because they create a “greenhouse effect”: they let the light from the sun into the Earth’s atmosphere but do not then let that heat escape. The cumulative capture without release of the sun’s heat causes climate disruption.
Climate disruption will result in an increase of “extreme events” such as heat waves; droughts; and an increased severity of hurricanes; tornadoes; avalanches; and blizzards. Climate change is having, and will continue to have, global consequences. Africa is estimated as the most vulnerable continent to climate change because of current stresses and low adaptive capacity. The Environmental Protection Agency is projecting that 75 million to 250 million people will experience increased water stress due to climate change. Projections indicate that access to food and agricultural production, especially in Africa, will be severely compromised by climate disruption.
Climate change affects everyone. The U.S. government declared more than 1500 U.S. counties "disaster" areas this summer due to drought caused by the second-hottest summer on record with little rain. People around the world are starting to feel the effects of climate disruption, and without action, it will not get better.
But our leaders, and those who wish to lead us, have only just begun to address this issue. There is much that the government could do to begin to slow the progression of climate disruption. This action will need to begin with a conversation between you and candidates for office. Ask the presidential candidates to talk about climate change and about their plans to preserve and protect the only Earth we’ve got.