by Victor Anderson
The American Presidential election is proving to be partly about planetary boundaries – one boundary in particular: climate change. Though with Obama as President, the US has still been basically unco-operative in the business of reaching an effective international deal, despite this there is still a very clear gap between Obama and Romney on climate.
Obama at least recognises there is a problem. Romney’s very different approach was highlighted in a chilling way at the end of his speech accepting the Republican Party’s nomination for the Presidency – and the acceptance speech is always seen as a key moment for defining what a candidate’s campaign is about and potentially what his presidency would be about. The words alone don’t really tell the story: the mocking tone about Obama’s recognition of climate and sea level rise as a problem, and the prolonged applause from the Republican audience, are also part of what happened. You can see this bit of his speech on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCWDc4jpauM&feature=youtu.be
Romney’s mocking dismissal of the climate issue came at a strange time for such an approach. He was speaking at an event which had to be cut short because of Hurricane Isaac. Coming exactly on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans, the winds and floods Isaac brought were a reminder of the type of event which climate change is making increasingly frequent.
At the same time as flooding in the south-east of the USA, across much of the rest of the country there is drought, severely limiting crop harvests, and (along with droughts in other parts of the world, including Russia) pushing up food prices on the world market, which in turn always means pushing some people into starvation. All this in the same week as clear evidence appeared showing Arctic sea ice at a record low: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/28/science/earth/sea-ice-in-arctic-measured-at-record-low.html?_r=1&smid=tw-share.
Meanwhile, back at their Convention, the Republicans adopted their policy platform for the November 6th elections. Like Romney’s speech, this expressed no sense of urgency about tackling climate change. In fact the opposite. They said: “The current Administration’s most recent National Security Strategy … subordinates our national security interests to environmental, energy, and international health issues, and elevates ‘climate change’ to the level of a ‘severe threat’ equivalent to foreign aggression. The word ‘climate,’ in fact, appears in the current President’s strategy more often than Al Qaeda, nuclear proliferation, radical Islam, or weapons of mass destruction.” And in case the message about where the US Republicans stand in relation to the rest of the world isn’t clear enough, this sentence: “ We strongly reject the U.N. Agenda 21 as erosive of American sovereignty.”
“Planetary boundaries” is a concept from natural science. We shouldn’t, however, forget that its relevance extends into the world of politics – in which the election of a US President is always a key event.
This is solely a personal point of view and not written on behalf of any organisation.