Environmental issues often get short shrift in US presidential campaigns, and this year’s election has been no exception. In poll after poll, voters report that the economy is the decisive issue. But no economy, and no society, can function without what scientists call nature’s support services. To grow food we need healthy soil, fresh water and a stable climate. To sustain a productive work force, we need clean air and protection from pollution. The economy, to borrow scholar Herman Daly’s phrase, is a subset of the environment; it cannot prosper if the environment is destroyed.
On the eve of the first presidential debate, The Nation invited some of the nation’s leading environmentalists to pose questions to the candidates to encourage both President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney—and the countless journalists who cover them—to give the environment its due. (We have done the same on the issue of poverty, which similarly isn’t being discussed in either campaign.) Our seven participants are an eclectic, accomplished group who represent the full diversity of the US environmental movement. Five of the seven are women; two are African-American; four direct national organizations, three work at the local or regional level.
The Nation will forward the questions below to the two presidential campaigns for responses. And we encourage our colleagues throughout the media, including the moderators of the three presidential debates, to pose these questions to the candidates. As you can see, both President Obama and Governor Romney have positions, or a track record, on the environment that they need to answer for.
1. Doesn’t “All of the Above” Invite A Climate Catastrophe? Directed to Obama, by Elise Jones, executive director of the Colorado Environment Coalition
Mr. President, you’re pursuing an “all of the above” energy strategy that ignores the scientific imperative to slash greenhouse gas emissions. If you are truly serious about climate change, why are you continuing George W. Bush’s policy of leasing millions of acres of public land for oil and gas development, rather than investing predominantly in game-changing clean energy technologies?
2. When Did Coal Plants Stop Killing People? Directed to Romney, by Phil Radford, executive director of Greenpeace
As governor of Massachusetts, you stood outside a coal plant in Salem and declared, “I will not create jobs…that kill people. And that plant kills people.” Indeed, pollution from coal plants kills 13,000 Americans each year, according to the EPA. Yet as a presidential candidate, you have embraced the coal industry. As president, what would you do to protect Americans from the coal pollution that fuels climate change and causes so much human suffering?
3. Will You Use the Clean Air Act vs. Climate Change?