The song asks “Is there hope for the future?” Based on last night’s debate between President Obama and Governor Romney, the climate scientist might answer “Not so much.” The candidates sparred vigorously about who could increase domestic oil, gas, and coal production more, and who would be more successful in lowering gasoline prices. For anyone concerned about what greenhouse gases from burning four cubic miles of hydrocarbons a year are doing to the planet, the debate was a desert.
Obama did mention the higher fuel-efficiency standards his administration has mandated, but in the context of keeping gas prices low, without mentioning any goal of burning less gas. One of the questions from the group of “uncommitted voters” was what each candidate would do to lower gas prices. Romney pounced, accusing Obama of being responsible for gasoline rising from $1.86 a gallon when he took office to $4.00 today. Obama’s response did not even nod at the science which shouts that America should reduce the amount of hydrocarbons it burns, and that higher prices encourage lower consumption. Instead he attributed the lower gas prices when he took office to the Great Recession, with 800,000 job lost the month he was sworn in as President and diminished economic activity.
We see in this presidential election the “finger in the wind” theory of leadership, meaning the “leader” figures out where a majority of voters wants to go, then puts himself at the front of the parade. Romney has been particularly adept at that style of leadership, with frequent policy adjustments intended to please his audience of the moment. And that strategy works; it’s difficult for a candidate to get elected to anything if she tells the voter what the voter doesn’t want to hear. For those of us who hear and respect evidence that unsustainable consumption is fouling the natural systems our lives depend on, that the goal of perpetual economic growth is a fantasy which doesn’t fit a finite Earth, and that dangerous climate changes are already happening, what we can do is bang away at public opinion until it permits politicians to tell the truth about global warming and still win elections.
President Franklin Roosevelt, a realistic politician, expressed a leader’s need for pressure from the led as follows: ”I agree with what you ask me to do. I want to do it. Now go out and make me do it.” Climate scientists have done a good job defining our environmental problems, but voting Americans mostly ignore or reject evidence of human-caused climate change. As good politicians,Obama and Romney calculate that voters don’t want to confront global warming problems; instead voters elect to go faster towards a changed, hotter world under a “Drill, baby, drill” flag. That will change, but when?
Images by Micov (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons