Fri, Aug 10, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Economy knocks climate change out of US election

OFF THE AGENDA:Obama was bent on fighting global warming when he was first elected, but the economy has now usurped the environment as the trendy topic


US President Barack Obama promised to tackle climate change when he first ran for the White House four years ago, but — battling this summer for a second term — he speaks little of the issue even as the US suffers through a drought of historic proportions, wild storms and punishing heat that topples temperature records almost daily.

As late as April, Obama told Rolling Stone magazine climate change would be a central campaign issue.

“I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we’re going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way,” he said.

However, as the campaign against Republican US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney reaches an early boil, even before the parties hold their nominating conventions, climate change is little spoken of by Obama, who four years ago foresaw millions of new jobs created through investments in “renewable sources of energy like solar power, wind power and advanced biofuels.”

Instead, Obama is fighting a Romney challenge in a tight race over the struggling US economy and stubbornly high unemployment. Gallup polling repeatedly shows the economy as the chief concern among US voters, at 65 percent, while environmental and pollution issues were mentioned by less than 1 percent of those polled.

Even without a big push on climate change, Obama has the support of environmentalists.

Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said Obama “has done a substantial amount in his three years to fight the climate crisis.”

Romney “is taking his lead from fossil fuel companies and does not even acknowledge there is a climate problem,” Burne said.

Romney has been accused of changing positions on the issue to curry favor with the most conservative Republicans, many of whom deny that climate change exists.

As governor of the liberal-leaning state of Massachusetts, Romney imposed restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions on power plants in the state, but as a presidential candidate, he has said the “idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is not the right course for us.”

He acknowledges that the globe is warming, but says “we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet.”

Early in his administration, Obama was more bullish on tackling climate change. He pushed through tough new fuel economy standards for cars and trucks and promoted alternative energy sources.

However, the first years of Obama’s presidency were dominated by the political fight over his plan to overhaul the country’s healthcare system. Obama managed to pass healthcare over intense Republican objections while Democrats controlled both houses of US Congress, but after Republicans — fueled by the conservative Tea Party movement’s anti-government, small-tax message — seized control of the US House of Representatives in the 2010 elections, the president’s legislative agenda has been blocked.

The US is now more politically driven and gripped in partisanship than at any time in recent history. Legislation on a deeply controversial issue like curbing greenhouse gases stands no chance of passage in Congress at a time when Republicans are accusing Obama of reckless spending and burdening businesses with unnecessary regulations.

Obama was bitten badly when Solyndra, a solar energy firm that received a US$500 million federal loan guarantee, went bankrupt and left taxpayers with the bill. Republicans painted Obama’s drive for alternative energy sources as a waste of time and money in an economy that was struggling to pull out of the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

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