POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. — In the wake of extreme drought in much of the United States, widespread wildfires in the U.S. West, and now Hurricane Sandy, Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's refusal to discuss human-induced climate change will undoubtedly go down as political recklessness of historic proportions.
That "climate silence" reigned throughout the presidential campaign and in the face of multifaceted devastation fueled by a warming planet is only somewhat surprising. A political system dominated by moneyed interests and an associated Democrat-Republican duopoly greatly limits the emergence of alternative voices needed to address systemic crises. Thus, even when global warming is discussed in Washington circles, it results in little.
Compounding the inertia is an inability to ask hard questions about much of what underlies the enormous U.S. contribution to the climate crisis: a profit-driven economic system that demands and necessitates endless growth, a global U.S. military presence that helps facilitate it and the ecologically rapacious consumption it entails.
Clearly, we cannot expect leadership for far-reaching change to emerge on its own from the ranks of those with a deep stake in maintaining the overall status quo. The necessary push will have to come from below.
This is evidenced by what we are largely getting from Democrats and Republicans with Sandy's destruction still palpable: stern-faced promises to "rebuild" and "return to normal" when what is needed is fundamentally different.
Climate science indicates that we need a radical decrease in greenhouse gas emissions within a few decades — around 90 percent over present levels — to maintain a semblance of ecological stability. Against such benchmarks, the Obama Administration's initiatives thus far, such as higher car and truck emissions standards, are woefully inadequate — especially given its embrace of expanded hydro-fracking, coal mining and Arctic oil drilling.
Nonetheless, with less than 5 percent of the planet's population, but responsible for almost one quarter of the world's present fossil fuel, the U.S. has a moral and political obligation to take the lead in making far-reaching reductions.
In addition to ending U.S. stonewalling of international climate negotiations, true leadership would implement large-scale infrastructural changes in favor of mass public transit, bike-friendly cities and towns and long-distance trains. Concurrently, it would work to significantly reduce private automobile usage and air travel — the most ecologically destructive act of consumption one can undertake.
Heeding environmental justice organizations abroad and in the U.S., it would end exploration of carbon-based fuels and work to keep them in the ground, while stymieing other high-risk and health-damaging forms of energy such as nuclear.
Moreover, it would support development of community-controlled renewable energy sources, and establish mechanisms to protect localities and workers as they transition from dependence on dirty industries.
It would strive for a downsized U.S. military, the planet's No. 1 institutional greenhouse gas producer. It would thus weaken the justification for the Pentagon's gargantuan size and perpetual growth, given that a central U.S. military goal is to ensure the smooth, global flow of oil.
Meaningful leadership would seek to impose a high tax on carbon, while providing financial support for those on the socio-economic ladder's lower rungs to cushion any resulting hardships.
It would facilitate widespread local food production and ecological remediation. It would also encourage simple living, urging people to reduce their wants, to slow down, to consume less and to share and support one another.
Fortunately, there are climate justice organizations working to bring about such changes. For everyone's well-being, they need to be supported, grown, and replicated so as to increase pressure on the country's ruling class. Only then, as an old adage suggests, will the leaders follow.
Joseph Nevins is an associate professor of geography at Vassar College.
WASHINGTON — There was no mention of the man-made global warming theory during the three presidential debates. That's a good thing, because policies enacted to fight global warming hurt people.
Anti-global warming policies are crafted to raise the price of energy to deter its use. They cause inflation and kill jobs. All for nothing!
Even anti-global warming activists admit the policies they fight for won't have a meaningful impact on global temperatures. Too little, they say.
Plus, relatively wealthy developed countries like the United States and Britain aren't the big carbon dioxide emitters of the future. Look to China — already No. 1 — and India for that.
The developing world isn't going to surrender its chance at prosperity, and we shouldn't expect it to.
In every society — no exceptions — concern about environmental issues comes only after that society has enough wealth to meet basic needs and earn some luxuries. China and India aren't going to be exceptions. Their first goal is economic growth.
A third reason it's good that global warming was absent from the debates is that global warming isn't happening. The world isn't getting warmer. Data collected from 3,000 land and sea locations around the globe and jointly released last month by Britain's Met Office Hadley Centre and the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia show that from early 1997 until August 2012 there was no noticeable rise in global temperatures.
Let me say that again: Earth temperatures have been steady since 1997. And the outfits saying so are the most famous pro-global warming theory institutes on the Earth.
Recall the Climategate scandal, in which leaked or hacked emails revealed that prominent scientists had let their zeal for the global warming theory — and the grant money and fame it generates — overwhelm their objectivity and professionalism.
Those emails came from one of the two institutes that now, probably reluctantly, is revealing there has been no noticeable warming worldwide since 1997.
For those keeping track, before 1997, there was warming for about 20 years, and before that, stable or declining temperatures for about 40 years. In total, the Earth has warmed about 0.75 degrees Celsius since 1880, which is soon after the Little Ice Age ended.
The 16-year halt to global warming we're enjoying now isn't what the global warming computer models so beloved by Al Gore predicted. In other words, the computer models predicting global warming turned out to be wrong.
People who aren't profiting in some way from the global warming theory consider this good news. But to others, the absence of global warming is upsetting.
Big-government politicians are among those upset. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a new anti-energy carbon tax enacted in the name of fighting global warming could raise $1.5 trillion for politicians in Washington to spend.
If global warming isn't happening, these politicians lose their excuse to get that money — from you. And there are the businesses that get grants and loans they'll never repay to develop green energies. Recall that President Obama did brag about spending your money on green energy during the debates.
Perhaps you already know Al Gore has parlayed his well-known interest in fighting global warming into business activities that have earned him a reported $100 million.
Even green activists seem blue that global warming isn't occurring. Being part of the anti-global warming cause may have been more important to them than ending global warming.
For those who profit in some way from the global warming theory, the absence of global warming from the debates was a loss. For the rest of us: Good riddance to global warming.
Amy Ridenour is chairman of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think-tank.