Climate-change politics

The campaign issue best capturing Americans’ attention on the road to Election Day is, of course, the anemic economy and who plans to do what to fix it. That is appropriate given the lackluster employment landscape across the country, as well as debt-deficit troubles that loom large on the horizon for governments from the federal to the local level. Not far behind the economy on voters’ minds and in politicians’ speeches and platforms are divisive social issues such as same-sex marriage and women’s reproductive rights.

Absent from the discourse until recently is climate change – an issue that was prominent in the 2008 election and all but disappeared in 2010. With a comment in his speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Mitt Romney brought climate change back to the dais, and President Barack Obama followed suit in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday. As with the economy and social issues, the two men and their parties differ on their view of climate change, but its re-emergence on the stage is welcome and long overdue.

In Romney’s comments, he made reference to climate change as a failing of Obama’s presidency while also calling into question whether the phenomenon exists. By doing so, Romney is attempting to reopen a question that science has all but settled. His effort would be better spent discussing what can or should be done to address the growing amount of carbon being emitted into Earth’s atmosphere – the fundamental culprit for the temperature changes we have been witnessing.

For his part, Obama made sweeping claims about his plans to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and invest in renewable energy. Again, that is a bit short on the specifics.

Climate change is an issue that need not be politicized, but like many things that fall into that category, it is being addressed with the partisan fervor that is flavoring all races at stake in November – presidential, congressional, state and local. While it is essential and encouraging to see global warming on the national discussion docket again, there is much to be lost in miring that discussion in divisive rhetoric. Instead, Obama, Romney and everyone down the ticket would serve voters – and the planet – far better by identifying and advocating any of a long list of steps we can take to slow and counter climate change. There is much that can be done, and stopping the debate at whether the problem exists is little more than a rhetorical stall tactic. Instead, politicians should build on the momentum begun by Romney and actively discuss next steps. It is well past time to take them, and a campaign provides the national venue for a robust discussion that can produce results. We all stand to gain from that.

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