The Rocky Marriage of Climate and Politics

By: Brian Sewell EP ’14 and Craig Johnson CSP ’14

On September 19th, the National Climate Seminar hosted a conversation on “Climate and the Election” with Darren Springer, Senior Policy Adviser for Energy and Environment to Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont. Springer’s work with Sen. Sanders’s office has given him an inside look at the congressional world of climate policy.

Towards the end of the Bush administration and during the 2008 presidential election there were a wide range of bipartisan efforts to reign in carbon emissions and to work towards climate legislation following a national peak of interest in climate change during 2007. Much of this interest was a byproduct of films such as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. However, after President Obama took office in 2009, it became clear that bipartisan support was waning.  Most of us are aware by now that the topic of climate change has been relegated to the back burner of the American political agenda, despite the fact that extreme weather events have been noticeably on the rise.

The major issue in 2012 is that climate change is not getting the attention it needs on the national political stage. Neither candidate for president has made a large effort to address this issue, and many of the local or regional efforts to address climate change have been squashed upon reaching the national level. In addition, opposition to the legislative progress on climate change has continued to grow due in large part to climate deniers like the Koch brothers. We know that Republicans have made their opposition clear, however, the question remains: why have Democrats failed to touch the issue?

Sen. Sanders of Vermont

Springer had a fairly straight forward answer to this question, “If there’s no prospects of doing any kind of meaningful legislation, no prospect of an energy bill, no prospect of a climate change bill, which is where we are right now, there’s a lot less impetus in congress for folks to talk about it”. This has had a direct effect on the way Americans view the issue and according to Springer we are now back at the 2002 interest level in climate change, which was very VERY low. Whether you want to blame the media, politicians, or private interests, the bottom line is that as long as climate remains absent from the national discussion the public will not pay attention to it.

The American public must be brought back into the discussion, and loudly so! So long as “we the people” do not make our desire for climate action clear, our elected representatives will continue to do nothing about it. Springer could not say it more clearly “Congress is in a bubble mentality…we need to break that bubble.” According to Darren Springer, the solution rests with the public and their ability, and or desire, to make known to their representatives that they truly wish to see the issue of climate change take center stage in politics. Politicians are, for the most part, receptive to the wants and needs of their constituents and if pressed will make concerted efforts to pass comprehensive climate legislation.

We echo his calls to action. The time is now, the need is urgent, the goal is clear. We need SEVERAL MILLION people in this country getting together to say this is an issue we care about and this is an issue we want to fight for!

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