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The Sound Of Climate Silence: Romney And Obama Love Fossil Fuels

“The door is closing. I am very worried – if we don’t change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for climate safety]. The door will be closed forever.”

No, that was not President Barack Obama or his Republican Challenger Mitt Romney speaking in the presidential debate. It was Fatih Birol, the renowned chief economist of the International Energy Agency, speaking about the pressing need to transition away from fossil fuels.

You’d be hard pressed to hear either of the presidential candidates make a statement like that. Or any statement on climate at all.

Those concerned about climate change were sorely disappointed during Tuesday night’s town hall-style debate when both the candidates and the moderator — CNN’s Candy Crowley — failed to address the issue of climate change, even during a lengthy and heated exchange about energy issues.

“I had that question for all of you climate change people,” said Crowley in the post-debate coverage. “We just, you know, again, we knew that the economy was still the main thing so you knew you kind of wanted to go with the economy.”

Obama started off the debate with a strong nod to renewable energy, explaining that we need to invest in “solar and wind and biofuels, energy efficient cars.” But after a voter asked about gas prices, both Obama and Romney proceeded to battle over who could drill more fossil fuels. (At one point, the two men closed in on each other, pointed fingers, and raised their voices over how much oil production had increased).

Obama separated himself by focusing on the need to develop more renewables and lower consumption of petroleum through better efficiency measures. But when talking about why he believes those investments are important, he never mentioned the reasons that alternatives to fossil fuels are so important.

Perhaps Australian climate scientist Will Steffen can explain: “This is the critical decade. If we don’t get the curves turned around this decade we will cross those lines. We are on the cusp of some big changes. We can … cap temperature rise at two degrees, or cross the threshold beyond which the system shifts to a much hotter state.”

Below is the full discussion on energy issues. Can you find the mention of climate? (Don’t strain too hard. We’ve already ruined it for you — there are none).

QUESTION: Your energy secretary, Steven Chu, has now been on record three times stating it’s not policy of his department to help lower gas prices. Do you agree with Secretary Chu that this is not the job of the Energy Department?

OBAMA: The most important thing we can do is to make sure we control our own energy. So here’s what I’ve done since I’ve been president. We have increased oil production to the highest levels in 16 years.

Natural gas production is the highest it’s been in decades. We have seen increases in coal production and coal employment. But what I’ve also said is we can’t just produce traditional source of energy. We’ve also got to look to the future. That’s why we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars. That means that in the middle of the next decade, any car you buy, you’re going to end up going twice as far on a gallon of gas. That’s why we doubled clean – clean energy production like wind and solar and biofuels.

And all these things have contributed to us lowering our oil imports to the lowest levels in 16 years. Now, I want to build on that. And that means, yes, we still continue to open up new areas for drilling. We continue to make it a priority for us to go after natural gas. We’ve got potentially 600,000 jobs and 100 years worth of energy right beneath our feet with natural gas.

And we can do it in an environmentally sound way. But we’ve also got to continue to figure out how we have efficiency energy, because ultimately that’s how we’re going to reduce demand and that’s what’s going to keep gas prices lower.

Now, Governor Romney will say he’s got an all-of-the-above plan, but basically his plan is to let the oil companies write the energy policies. So he’s got the oil and gas part, but he doesn’t have the clean energy part. And if we are only thinking about tomorrow or the next day and not thinking about 10 years from now, we’re not going to control our own economic future. Because China, Germany, they’re making these investments. And I’m not going to cede those jobs of the future to those countries. I expect those new energy sources to be built right here in the United States.

That’s going to help Jeremy get a job. It’s also going to make sure that you’re not paying as much for gas.

CROWLEY: Governor, on the subject of gas prices?

ROMNEY: Well, let’s look at the president’s policies, all right, as opposed to the rhetoric, because we’ve had four years of policies being played out. And the president’s right in terms of the additional oil production, but none of it came on federal land. As a matter of fact, oil production is down 14 percent this year on federal land, and gas production was down 9 percent. Why? Because the president cut in half the number of licenses and permits for drilling on federal lands, and in federal waters.

So where’d the increase come from? Well a lot of it came from the Bakken Range in North Dakota. What was his participation there? The administration brought a criminal action against the people drilling up there for oil, this massive new resource we have. And what was the cost? 20 or 25 birds were killed and brought out a migratory bird act to go after them on a criminal basis.

Look, I want to make sure we use our oil, our coal, our gas, our nuclear, our renewables. I believe very much in our renewable capabilities; ethanol, wind, solar will be an important part of our energy mix.

But what we don’t need is to have the president keeping us from taking advantage of oil, coal and gas. This has not been Mr. Oil, or Mr. Gas, or Mr. Coal. Talk to the people that are working in those industries. I was in coal country. People grabbed my arms and said, “Please save my job.” The head of the EPA said, “You can’t build a coal plant. You’ll virtually – it’s virtually impossible given our regulations.” When the president ran for office, he said if you build a coal plant, you can go ahead, but you’ll go bankrupt. That’s not the right course for America.

Let’s take advantage of the energy resources we have, as well as the energy sources for the future. And if we do that, if we do what I’m planning on doing, which is getting us energy independent, North America energy independence within eight years, you’re going to see manufacturing jobs come back. Because our energy is low cost, that are already beginning to come back because of our abundant energy. I’ll get America and North America energy independent. I’ll do it by more drilling, more permits and licenses.

We’re going to bring that pipeline in from Canada. How in the world the president said no to that pipeline? I will never know.

This is about bringing good jobs back for the middle class of America, and that’s what I’m going to do.

CROWLEY: Mr. President, let me just see if I can move you to the gist of this question, which is, are we looking at the new normal? I can tell you that tomorrow morning, a lot of people in Hempstead will wake up and fill up and they will find that the price of gas is over $4 a gallon.

Is it within the purview of the government to bring those prices down, or are we looking at the new normal?

OBAMA: Candy, there’s no doubt that world demand’s gone up, but our production is going up, and we’re using oil more efficiently. And very little of what Governor Romney just said is true. We’ve opened up public lands. We’re actually drilling more on public lands than in the previous administration and my – the previous president was an oil man.

And natural gas isn’t just appearing magically. We’re encouraging it and working with the industry.

And when I hear Governor Romney say he’s a big coal guy, I mean, keep in mind, when – Governor, when you were governor of Massachusetts, you stood in front of a coal plant and pointed at it and said, “This plant kills,” and took great pride in shutting it down. And now suddenly you’re a big champion of coal.

So what I’ve tried to do is be consistent. With respect to something like coal, we made the largest investment in clean coal technology, to make sure that even as we’re producing more coal, we’re producing it cleaner and smarter. Same thing with oil, same thing with natural gas.

And the proof is our oil imports are down to the lowest levels in 20 years. Oil production is up, natural gas production is up, and, most importantly, we’re also starting to build cars that are more efficient.

And that’s creating jobs. That means those cars can be exported, ’cause that’s the demand around the world, and it also means that it’ll save money in your pocketbook.

OBAMA: That’s the strategy you need, an all-of-the-above strategy, and that’s what we’re going to do in the next four years.

ROMNEY: But that’s not what you’ve done in the last four years. That’s the problem. In the last four years, you cut permits and licenses on federal land and federal waters in half.

OBAMA: Not true, Governor Romney.

ROMNEY: So how much did you cut (inaudible)?

OBAMA: Not true.

ROMNEY: How much did you cut them by, then?

OBAMA: Governor, we have actually produced more oil –

ROMNEY: No, no. How much did you cut licenses and permits on federal land and federal waters?

OBAMA: Governor Romney, here’s what we did. There were a whole bunch of oil companies.


ROMNEY: No, no, I had a question and the question was how much did you cut them by?

OBAMA: You want me to answer a question –

ROMNEY: How much did you cut them by?

OBAMA: I’m happy to answer the question.

ROMNEY: All right. And it is –

OBAMA: Here’s what happened. You had a whole bunch of oil companies who had leases on public lands that they weren’t using. So what we said was you can’t just sit on this for 10, 20, 30 years, decide when you want to drill, when you want to produce, when it’s most profitable for you. These are public lands. So if you want to drill on public lands, you use it or you lose it.

ROMNEY: OK, (inaudible) –

OBAMA: And so what we did was take away those leases. And we are now reletting them so that we can actually make a profit.

ROMNEY: And production on private – on government land –

OBAMA: Production is up.

ROMNEY: – is down.

OBAMA: No, it isn’t.

ROMNEY: Production on government land of oil is down 14 percent.

OBAMA: Governor –

ROMNEY: And production on gas –


OBAMA: It’s just not true.

ROMNEY: It’s absolutely true. Look, there’s no question but the people recognize that we have not produced more (inaudible) on federal lands and in federal waters. And coal, coal production is not up; coal jobs are not up.

I was just at a coal facility, where some 1,200 people lost their jobs. The right course for America is to have a true all-of-the-above policy. I don’t think anyone really believes that you’re a person who’s going to be pushing for oil and gas and coal. You’ll get your chance in a moment. I’m still speaking.

OBAMA: Well –

ROMNEY: And the answer is I don’t believe people think that’s the case –

OBAMA: – (inaudible).

ROMNEY: That wasn’t the question.


ROMNEY: That was a statement. I don’t think the American people believe that. I will fight for oil, coal and natural gas. And the proof, the proof of whether a strategy is working or not is what the price is that you’re paying at the pump. If you’re paying less than you paid a year or two ago, why, then, the strategy is working. But you’re paying more. When the president took office, the price of gasoline here in Nassau County was about $1.86 a gallon. Now, it’s $4.00 a gallon. The price of electricity is up.

If the president’s energy policies are working, you’re going to see the cost of energy come down. I will fight to create more energy in this country, to get America energy secure. And part of that is bringing in a pipeline of oil from Canada, taking advantage of the oil and coal we have here, drilling offshore in Alaska, drilling offshore in Virginia where the people want it. Those things will get us the energy we need.

CROWLEY: Mr. President, could you address, because we did finally get to gas prices here, could you address what the governor said, which is if your energy policy was working, the price of gasoline would not be $4 a gallon here. Is that true?

OBAMA: Well, think about what the governor – think about what the governor just said. He said when I took office, the price of gasoline was $1.80, $1.86. Why is that? Because the economy was on the verge of collapse, because we were about to go through the worst recession since the Great Depression, as a consequence of some of the same policies that Governor Romney’s now promoting.

So, it’s conceivable that Governor Romney could bring down gas prices because with his policies, we might be back in that same mess.

What I want to do is to create an economy that is strong, and at the same time produce energy. And with respect to this pipeline that Governor Romney keeps on talking about, we’ve – we’ve built enough pipeline to wrap around the entire earth once.

So, I’m all for pipelines. I’m all for oil production. What I’m not for is us ignoring the other half of the equation. So, for example, on wind energy, when Governor Romney says “these are imaginary jobs.” When you’ve got thousands of people right now in Iowa, right now in Colorado, who are working, creating wind power with good-paying manufacturing jobs, and the Republican senator in that – in Iowa is all for it, providing tax breaks (ph) to help this work and Governor Romney says I’m opposed. I’d get rid of it.

That’s not an energy strategy for the future. And we need to win that future. And I intend to win it as President of the United States.

And there you have it. The deafening sound of climate silence.

Even as more voters say they understand that humans are warming the planet — and will reward candidates who say they’d do something about the problem — the policy conversation about energy goes on without any acknowledgement.

Joseph Romm's picture

Thank Joseph for the Post!

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S. Loving's picture
S. Loving on Oct 17, 2012 6:33 pm GMT

My God Romm, you are Ahab.  How can you be so relentlessly shallow and trite in your assessment?  You, McKibben, Lester Brown have had decades to rise up an appropritely demanding citizenry to avert ecocide and you have not only completely failed, you've actually risen up folks that see their role, not as fighting unviolently for their children, but relegating themselves to spectators in the Gladiator Games that you guys in the Climate Club have effectively made us - writing we the people, the only army that can stop an industry after $40 trillion in revenues, COMPLETELY OUT OF THE SCRIPT (for which we happily pay your salaries and buy your books, ad nauseum); and heaping cruel, ridiculous, insane blame on our General, Obama, for our, your own failures. 

Of course he wasn't silent, Pr. Obama, on global warming.  He championed green energy in word and deed. 

Shockingly, crassly, shamefully Joe, you had the gall to cite Jesus in your recent book fostering more of your failed lip-service.  Jesus told an important parable - about the two sons, one of whom said, 'Yes dad, I'll do what you want,' and then DID NOT.  The other said, 'no dad, I won't do what you want,' and then went and DID HIS FATHERS WORK. 

Obama knows that your decades of lipservice, Joe, won't avert ecocide in a million years more of it; let alone the months we have left to avert ecocide.  If Pr. Obama heeded you, and your leadership toward lip-service, whining... all it would do is get Pr. Obama politically lynched, taking the one doer we have, off the field. 

He's not going to come to heal on your demand, Joe, on your leadership toward lip service, for which you continue to cowardishly crucify him. Wake up Joe. 

You say, READ MY LIPS.  You've killed decades of our kid's time with that.

Obama, and Jesus before him say, and lead toward the only source of power that can save our kids - READ MY LIFE, READ MY DEEDS, READ MY ACTIONS.  All hope lies there.

Wake up Joe.  I used to think you were better than what you've shown us so far.

Jesse Parent's picture
Jesse Parent on Oct 17, 2012 7:25 pm GMT

Hmm........ "attack the argument not the person" ? A lot of agitation here. 

Jesse Parent's picture
Jesse Parent on Oct 17, 2012 7:39 pm GMT

In general, as I've said before, I don't think the blame is on Obama or Romney. I don't think it 'matters' if Romney is a climate change denier or not. Why? Because all of their responses reflect the how Americans talk about climate and energy, and that's what they were catering. America still doesn't really care that much, unfortunately. 

Obama perhaps kowtowed a bit more to big oil and natural gas in his speech, and the haggling over who is more 'for coal' was humorous at best. But I don't put this on on Obama or Romney - I just think America still has a long, long way to go. 

Would I prefer to see a national energy dialoge, a national enregy plan, a national cimate change dialogue or plan? Of course, but, it's just not there right now. And I don't see any sort of top-down messaging working, at all. It makes me somwhat pleased to hear Obama actually make the connections to what the US needs to do in terms the new economy, in his comment that not all jobs will return to the US, and that there needs to be focus on STEM and higher level manufacturing. That's related to understanding the global economy and energy markets (and, yes,  a nod toward climate change if I may be so generous).

But it's not enough. I don't know the way forward entirely, but, those in the US who want to see more climate diaolgue need to continue to work more towards making it relevant; the casual perception that economy trumps fluffly climate talk has won out, thus far. 

Jesse Parent

S. Loving's picture
S. Loving on Oct 17, 2012 7:59 pm GMT

Friend Jesse, without any trouble you can easily dismiss the following - I've made it easy for you.  'Personal' attack.  But that would be incorrect.  Not you, Romm, McKibben, Lester Brown are 'personal' to me in any way.  This is -

Jesse, the Bangladelshis are my kids, and their doom is all but sealed now.  The Indigenous Alaskans are my kin.  The Maldivians are my kin. The other 10 island nations about to submerge are my Kin. The next 200 billion kids are my kids, my Family.  The question isn't why I'm agitated.  You bet your life I am, literally every waking second - EVERY WAKING SECOND!  The question is - WHY AREN'T YOU? 

You know what?  When Pearl Harbor was bombed, my father's generation got agitated?  Your complaint about that is what?  The revolutionaries in Tahrir Square were agitated.  Little 14 year old Malala, fighting gor her life, and her father, they are 'agitated.'  Neo, Morpheus were agitated.  The billions in The Matrix, were not.  Insanity is not being 'agitated,' given what is at stake.




Jesse, tell me, what am I missing here?

In the 1980's when the one hero here, Dr. Hansen, substantially sounded the alarm, we had 40 years to save the future.  Advocates like you have made sure we didn't get 'agitated.'  We've criminally squandered 30 of those years now, lost forever.  By 2023, 10 years from now, we pass the point of no return at current burn rates, 128 gigatons of fossil fuels more, taking us beyond the point of no return, 425 ppm.  That's 10 years left ( , TELL ME WHAT I'VE GOT INCORRECT, PLEASE!) , all of which is needed for implementation, AND NO ONE IS 'AGITATED,' thanks to thinking, writing, counsel, example, 'leadership' such as yours, Romm's, McKibbens, Lester Brown's. 

You get agitated AT those who can do virtually nothing to save the future- Pr. Obama and Congress. If Gandhi had followed your lead, India would still be a British Colony.   I get 'agitated' at those that could save us, first at my own life, every waking second  ( Start Loving , Tracking Plan B ), and occasionally, at the current folks best situated as 'citizen leaders,' Romm, McKibben, Brown, that so far have selected Bush II (shop, send donations, send emails), Nevil Chamberlain... rather than Gandhi and his citien Army, King and His, Wael Ghonim and his. 

If I'm wrong by historical measures, tell me.  If I'm correct by all relevant history of major unviolent change - GET AND STAY 'AGITATED.'

"Those with the privilage to know have the duty to act," Einstein.

'My problem is not the violent racists.  My problem is the 'good people' that refuse to get, and stay 'agitated,' MLK Jr. paraphrase.

Jesse Parent's picture
Jesse Parent on Oct 17, 2012 8:16 pm GMT

I am agitated, but, I've realized that online forums are at best a place to talk about things. The real deal happens in the real world - and it's going to happen with scientists, engineers, and also communites and relationships, eventually pushing for policies that people demand.

As odd as this may sound, there's only so much that posting on a site like this is going to do - and how many of us here (like me) have 'our own blogs' where we spew lofty notions about what the best way forward is. That's great and all, but none of it does anything directly, other than perhaps open up some minds. 

If we all spend as much energy and effort in the real world at making positive changes we do on the internets making declarations and condemnations, we'll be in good shape. 

S. Loving's picture
S. Loving on Oct 17, 2012 8:42 pm GMT

Jesse, I credit you for reading what I had to say and replying.

"Example is not the major thing in influencing people, it is the only thing,"  Albert Schweitzer.

"80% or more of communication is non-verbal."  One of the few widely held, widely researched tennants of psychology.

Speaking for myself, I hate the fact that self-immolation now, isn't what I can to do to stop the train, now.  I hate the fact that Death Fasts won't stop the train, now.  There's no Life left on earth, objectively, clinically, to respond to such things.  The best I can find to stand in the way of the Death Train (#1.  Progressive's Catatonic Apathy; #2. Insane Affloholism among the determined to mine $40 trillion in fossil fuel reserves) is my so far 5 month, 7 day per week, 20-22 hour per day vigil in front of the Canadian Embassy (the tar sands are the WWIII Auschwitz), 501 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington, DC) where I secondarily research, study, re-post, blog, and most importantly continue my life-long academic and practical mastery of unviolent change theory and practice.  Here SL   and  TPB here.


S. Loving's picture
S. Loving on Oct 17, 2012 8:46 pm GMT

Jim, please see the comment I just left for Jesse, and check the links, and tell me what you think is incorrect, if anything. 


S. Loving's picture
S. Loving on Oct 18, 2012 12:10 am GMT

Jim, tomorrow I'll hope to have the time to spend at your site.

Here in DC, in front of the Indian Embassy is a magificent statue of Gandhi.  The inscription at the base,

"My life is my message." 

We virtually all 'deny' this Truth in our own lives, and in all the 'associations,' environmental 'clubs,' etc, but it is existentially inescapable; and it is inescapable that the next 200 billion are doomed, unless first 1, then 2, then 3... embrace - "My life is my message."  Everything else is details.  And this is the history of all major human progress, and it's absence, doom; final, now, for all in the future.

We need to put up, or have the decency to shut up..


Bill Hannahan's picture
Bill Hannahan on Oct 18, 2012 6:47 am GMT

If the U.S. reduced carbon emissions to zero tomorrow the savings would be overwhelmed by the developing world in a few years.

Developing new sources of reliable dispatchable clean energy that are less expensive than fossil fuel is the only way to end the age of fossil fuel.




Bill Hannahan's picture
Bill Hannahan on Oct 18, 2012 6:46 am GMT



Bobbi O's picture
Bobbi O on Oct 18, 2012 1:41 pm GMT


One must make allowances for political realities. A strong statement against fossil fuels and dire warnings  about climate change would lose Obama more votes than he would gain from informed people. But there is nothing so liberating as a second term when Obama will be free to do as much as possible to protect  the climate.I truly see red when I hear greenies say they will not vote for Obama because he hasn't done all we had hoped for.   Well , help get rid of the science challenged Republicans and and he will come through.

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