Saturday, November 03, 2012

If campaigns are zero-sum games, why will neither side talk about climate?

I've seen the justified lamentations about the lack of climate discussion in the campaign, and occasional discussion of why Obama hasn't talked that much about it.  (I provided my own explanation - Ohio.)  There's less discussion of why Romney doesn't talk about it, and little about why the interaction between candidates doesn't produce discussion.

In zero-sum politics, a disadvantage for one candidate should be an advantage for the other candidate, so why doesn't at least one of them push his opinion?

Unlike Karl Rove, I don't have THE answer, but I do have possibilities:

1.  This NYTimes article says their positions aren't that different.  Both acknowledge people are changing climate, so there's no reason to talk about that as opposed to their actual differences over energy policy.

I'm not buying it, first because it far overstates Romney's acceptance of climate change: "there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue."  That leaves plenty of room for a fight between reality and denial.  Also the strong difference in energy policy - support a growing sector versus abandoning it to China in favor of a declining and polluting sector - should easily reference back to climate.

The article does provide a service in saying Obama hasn't been completely silent.  And Romney's oblique references have been mocking Obama's intention to do something about it.  Let's refine the question to why both sides say so little instead of being silent.

On to more promising ideas.

2.  One or both sides overestimate the risk to their position.  If each side thinks the issue can backfire and hurt their side relative to the other, then neither will bring it up.  Both campaigns might think the issue has a 55% chance of helping the other side - that's not possible in zero sums, but would mean someone has bad political judgment.

I think this plays a role.

3.  It's not climate as an issue but their own ability to hurt themselves.  Maybe the candidates figure anything they say is more likely to motivate the other side than it is to motivate their own side, so again they keep quiet.  The analogy would be to Romney's relative silence over his abortion position, and the Democrats' relative silence about their somewhat-tepid opposition to torture and civil rights violations.

Problem with this one is that surrogates and Superpacs would likely go on the attack over climate, but everyone has little to say.

4.  It's like space policy - not enough people cared to force it on the agenda.  If Hurricane Sandy had happened in September then things might have been different.  If last summer's heat wave had more time to get into the public mindset, it also might have changed things.  The idea here though is that while the policy elites may be thinking of these things, most of the public isn't.

Sadly, I'm giving this last option the most credit, with an assist from overestimating risk.  It doesn't excuse a lack of leadership, but again helps explain it.  And it means those of us who care about climate have to do more.

For a little respite from climate silence, here's a debate between campaign surrogates with the last part discussing climate.  Romney's surrogate flat-out lies in the debate about current coal technology not producing pollutants, but admits that Romney would eliminate greenhouse gas controls that the EPA is currently phasing in under the Clean Air Act.  He also says the government should provide some money for energy research, but nothing to reduce carbon emissions.  So much for the NY Times article.


Hank Roberts said...

The public health folks could provide you with a list, in addition to climate change, of similar issues. Anything where significant profits are being made currently and the damage done is (a) externalized, and (b) discounted because it's mostly in the future, and (c) we all know the future isn't worth 100 percent, in fact past about 30 years out, anything in the future -- including debt -- has almost no value at all, ask any economist older than about 75.

E.g., antibiotics used in agriculture.

E.g., persistent organic chemicals bioaccumulating.

E.g., interaction effects among the above.

Why are none of the candidates talking about any of these?

Anonymous said...

Snow Bunny says:

ClimateSilence made an advertisement on Romney's statement -- it has to be seen:

Anonymous said...

Romney cannot say anything because the Kochs are pulling his strings.

Obama doesn't need to say anything because his opponent is a Koch muppet: so he wins the climate vote even if he remains silent.

Regards, Millicent

carrot eater said...

I think it's mainly that not enough people care that much about it, relative to other concerns. As unemployment eventually gets back down to a more comfortable range, then other issues like these will get more attention.

Anonymous said...

Oren Cass: "We absolutely need coal to be clean, [...] coal that actually does not emit conventional pollutants that are harming health and the environment. And we have technology today that can do that."

Of course later in the same debate Cass slams the administration for requiring coal plants to install emissions controls that eliminate "conventional pollutants."



Anonymous said...

Well, you lefty out an itty bitty possibility:

As Jim Hansen says

"Neither party wants to offend the fossil fuel industry. They want to win the election. And they know the power of the fossil fuel industry. You can’t turn on your television without seeing these advertisements about clean coal, tar sands, and the claim that there’s more jobs associated with fossil fuels than with other energies. That’s of course not true, but they’re hammering that into the voters heads. And so if anyone challenges the fossil fuel industry, they know they’re going to lose the money that they get from the fossil fuel industry. And secondly, they’re going to have the fossil fuel industry against them in the election...The politicians are not willing to say that we cannot burn all the fossil fuels without guaranteeing a different planet — and cheating our planet."


Brian said...

Anon: Hansen might explain why Obama isn't talking much, but it doesn't explain why Romney is being quiet.

Maybe under this theory, Obama's quiet so as to not attract negative attention from the fossil fuel industry about the moderate inconvenience he plans to impose on them, and Romney's quiet because the public will disagree with him?

I suppose it's possible, but the fossil fuel folks are fully aware of Obama's position. And Romney's position is probably not all that unpopular, or at least wasn't up to the end of summer. Weird summer plus weird winter plus Sandy might have started moving people's opinions.

Anonymous said...

it doesn't explain why Romney is being quiet"

Why would Romney bring up the issue of climate change if he is being funded by fossil fuel companies?

What would he have to gain?


Anonymous said...

Democrats lost the house in 2010 due to the green police bill - that's why nobody wants to talk.

One Term Harry.

Alastair said...

Couldn't the reason be why both candidstes are silent on the climate issue be because they both realise that if elected they will have to take action and it will be unpopular.

The American public elect the candidate who is the more optimistic. Telling the truth won't get you elected. The only hope for the world is that Romney is elected and he can persuade Congress to implement policies to stay the effects of climate change. Obama can't.

Cheers, Alastair.

Brian said...

Alastair - I've wondered if a climate bill would've passed had we elected McCain instead of Obama. OTOH, McCain could've pulled a Bush and reneged. We'll never know.

Romney is far worse now than McCain was in 2008, so I wouldn't expect anything good from him as president. If defeated, he might eventually come out in favor of climate reality and help a realistic generation of Republicans move in. Maybe.

Anonymous said...

~@:> says:

"Well, you lefty out an itty bitty possibility"

Shouldn't that be either "left out" or "lefty outy" 8^)?

Mal Adapted