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The Sound of Climate Silence: Romney and Obama Spar Over Who Wants to Drill For More Fossil Fuels During Debate

Those concerned about climate change were sorely disappointed during Tuesday night’s town hall-style debate.
 
 
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“The door is closing. I am very worried – if we don’t change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for climate safety].  The door will be closed forever.”

No, that was not President Barack Obama or his Republican Challenger Mitt Romney speaking in the presidential debate. It was Fatih Birol, the renowned chief economist of the International Energy Agency,  speakingabout the pressing need to transition away from fossil fuels.

You’d be hard pressed to hear either of the presidential candidates make a statement like that. Or any statement on climate at all.

Those concerned about climate change were sorely disappointed during Tuesday night’s town hall-style debate when both the candidates and the moderator — CNN’s Candy Crowley — failed to address the issue of climate change, even during a lengthy and heated exchange about energy issues.

“I had that question for all of you climate change people,” said Crowley in the post-debate coverage. “We just, you know, again, we knew that the economy was still the main thing so you knew you kind of wanted to go with the economy.”

Obama started off the debate with a strong nod to renewable energy, explaining that we need to invest in “solar and wind and biofuels, energy efficient cars.” But after a voter asked about gas prices, both Obama and Romney proceeded to battle over who could drill more fossil fuels. (At one point, the two men closed in on each other, pointed fingers, and raised their voices over how much oil production had increased).

Obama separated himself by focusing on the need to develop more renewables and lower consumption of petroleum through better efficiency measures. But when talking about  why he believes those investments are important, he never mentioned the reasons that alternatives to fossil fuels are so important.

Perhaps Australian climate scientist Will Steffen  can explain: “This is the critical decade.  If we don’t get the curves turned around this decade we will cross those lines. We are on the cusp of some big changes. We can … cap temperature rise at two degrees, or cross the threshold beyond which the system shifts to a much hotter state.”

Below is the full discussion on energy issues. Can you find the mention of climate? (Don’t strain too hard. We’ve already ruined it for you — there are none).

QUESTION: Your energy secretary, Steven Chu, has now been on record three times stating it’s not policy of his department to help lower gas prices. Do you agree with Secretary Chu that this is not the job of the Energy Department?

OBAMA: The most important thing we can do is to make sure we control our own energy. So here’s what I’ve done since I’ve been president. We have increased oil production to the highest levels in 16 years.

Natural gas production is the highest it’s been in decades. We have seen increases in coal production and coal employment. But what I’ve also said is we can’t just produce traditional source of energy. We’ve also got to look to the future. That’s why we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars. That means that in the middle of the next decade, any car you buy, you’re going to end up going twice as far on a gallon of gas. That’s why we doubled clean – clean energy production like wind and solar and biofuels.

And all these things have contributed to us lowering our oil imports to the lowest levels in 16 years. Now, I want to build on that. And that means, yes, we still continue to open up new areas for drilling. We continue to make it a priority for us to go after natural gas. We’ve got potentially 600,000 jobs and 100 years worth of energy right beneath our feet with natural gas.

 
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