The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Green Fail on the Campaign Trail

As with most presidential contenders, Obama and Romney don’t agree on much. But as a recent piece in the New York Times points out, there is one notable exception: Energy and climate change. Despite the fact that both candidates believe in anthropogenic climate change, neither one has discussed plans to address the issue using green policies. Instead, both are attempting to portray themselves as traditional energy’s best friend:

Throughout the campaign, Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney have seemed most intent on trying to outdo each other as lovers of coaloil and natural gas — the very fuels most responsible for rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Mr. Obama has supported broad climate change legislation, financed extensive clean energy projects and pushed new regulations to reduce global warming emissions from cars and power plants. But neither he nor Mr. Romney has laid out during the campaign a legislative or regulatory program to address the fundamental questions arising from one of the most vexing economic, environmental, political and humanitarian issues to face the planet. Should the United States cut its greenhouse gas emissions, and, if so, how far and how fast? Should fossil fuels be more heavily taxed? Should any form of clean energy be subsidized, and for how long? Should the United States lead international mitigation efforts? Should the nation pour billions of new dollars into basic energy research? Is the climate system so fraught with uncertainty that the rational response is to do nothing?

It’s not much of a surprise to see this from Romney, but this is a major shift for Obama. The president’s 2008 campaign was filled with grand statements about how we needed to implement bold new plans to combat climate change, and for the first two years of his administration, it seemed as though he would be likely to follow through. Green jobs programs, subsidies for electric cars, and even pie-in-the-sky carbon-trading schemes were all discussed, and some were eventually passed.

Those days are long gone. The closer we come to the election, the less we hear about green and the more we hear about brown, about oil and gas drilling. Obama wants to win in November, and he’s clearly made the (correct) choice that he can’t do it if he continues to be the green candidate.

This is a testament to the spectacular failures of the environmental movement to articulate any policies that aren’t political suicide for those who support them. When Obama was elected, many Greens felt that their time had come, that one of their own was sitting in the Oval Office. But it only took two years of political defeats and embarrassments to convince the president and many of his party colleagues that the green movement’s polices of choice are political non-starters.

This time around, the Greens won’t be pulling the lever enthusiastically for either candidate. For this, they have only themselves to blame.

Published on October 26, 2012 12:45 pm