Conventions create climate coverage

While gets some answers

The presidential candidates are still treating it like a back-burner issue, but the Republican and Democratic national conventions incited a short round of climate-change coverage as reporters dug into the newly approved party platforms.

The GOP went first, gathering in Tampa as Tropical Storm Isaac swirled by during the last week of August. The Republican platform highlighted “a fairly dramatic shift in its approach to energy and environmental issues,” The Washington Post’s Brad Plumer was quick to observe (the Post also created a nice graphic mapping the evolution of Republicans’ position on climate and other issues). Reminding readers that while the 2008 platform contained a “long and detailed” section called, “Addressing Climate Change Responsibly,” Plumer pointed out that the latest version “takes a markedly different tone”:

That section devoted to climate change? Gone. Instead, the platform flatly opposes ”any and all cap and trade legislation” to curtail greenhouse gases. It demands that Congress “take quick action to prohibit the EPA from moving forward with new greenhouse gas regulations.” It criticizes the Obama administration’s National Security Strategy for ”elevat[ing] ‘climate change’ to the level of a ‘severe threat’ equivalent to foreign aggression.”

By comparison, the new platform’s view of renewable energy sources reflects a “more modest shift,” Plumer noted. While it still promises to encourage “cost-effective development,” it swears off the limited government assistance included in the 2008 platform in favor of a total free-market approach. Indeed, Grist has an amusing, if dispiritingly accurate, breakdown of the Republicans’ bottom line on a variety of energy and environmental issues:

●  Oil and gas are cool
●  Fracking is cool
●  Nuclear is cool
●  Renewables are somewhat less cool
●  Cap-and-trade totally sucks
●  EPA’s push to curb CO2 emissions totally sucks
●  In fact, the entire EPA completely, absolutely, utterly sucks

Grist and a number of other progressive, environmental bloggers also blasted Republican nominee Mitt Romney for treating climate change as a punchline during a convention speech in which he mocked what he termed the president’s desire to slow sea-level rise and “heal the planet.”

The Democrats have taken a few knocks from the media as well, however. Over at the Post, Plumer took the same approach as with the GOP, describing a shift in the Democratic platform as it “tries awkwardly to juggle” environmental and economic concerns. According to his post, the changes boil down to:

●  A less-apocalyptic take on climate change
●  Less-ambitious plans to reduce carbon emissions
●  Still sounding upbeat on clean energy
●  A warmer embrace of fossil fuels

Reuters and other outlets took a similar tack, characterizing a “more restrained” view of climate change and noting that, “the political realities of the past four years have likely curbed the Democrats’ ability to pursue the kind of energy and environment agenda they outlined in 2008.”

The New York Times’s John Broder seemed fed up with both parties. He reminded readers that two years ago, at a Washington symposium observing the 40th anniversary of the Clean Air Act, someone in the audience of government officials, scientists, public health experts, and environmental advocates asked what it would take for the country to address climate change. William K. Reilly, the administrator of the EPA under the first Bush administration, suggested that severe weather events like Hurricane Katrina help jog people’s concern. There have been plenty of heat waves and ice melt since then, Broder wrote, “and yet climate change is barely a blip on the political radar in this year’s campaign.”

Obama and Romney did, however, provide answers this week to 14 questions from the nonprofit advocacy group, including one about climate change. The Los Angeles Times’s Neela Banjeree pointed out that although Romney mocked Obama’s climate views in his convention speech, in his reply to, “the Republican candidate took another position, similar to the more moderate stance he struck last year, when he conceded that the planet was getting warmer.” But USA Today Dan Vergano reported that “public opinion experts seem divided” on whether Romney’s comments “represent a moderation of his views on global warming.”

Meanwhile, in his reply to, Obama reaffirmed his belief that the changing climate is one of the country’s most pressing concerns. According to Banerjee, who was careful to note that the evidence is on the president’s side:

Each candidate’s comments about climate change reveal the tensions between appealing to the party faithful and carving inroads toward political centrists. Although climate science has grown more certain and sophisticated over the last two decades, discussion of climate change has become more divisive and politicized.

Others in the media demurred slightly, arguing that replies to didn’t reveal much at all. At i09, a science blog published by Gawker Media, Robert T. Gonzalez explained why he thinks the written responses “aren’t enough,” arguing that “it is vital that we continue to push for the candidates to address these issues in a public forum that allows for discussion, direct debate and followup questions.”

At his Dot Earth blog, The New York Times’s Andrew Revkin concurred. “Sadly, without real discussion or follow-up, such one-shot answers are largely pasted boilerplate,” he wrote.

That’s true, of course, and so are platforms. As Gonzalez said, it’s vital that we—as in, journalists—keep pushing for the candidates to discuss environmental issues directly, with the chance for reporters to challenge their answers.

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Curtis Brainard writes on science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard. Tags: , , , ,