When it comes to complex science issues, it sometimes seems that all political candidates possess an advanced degree in question dodging.
One lucky group of scientists, however, managed to get the candidates' views on key environmental issues in their very own words.
Sciencedebate.com, is a coalition of national scientific societies devoted to raising awareness on key scientific issues during the election season. They secured written statements from both Presidential candidates on some of the thorniest science questions — including climate change, which many environmental groups have protested is being largely ignored in 2012.
Both candidates were asked to weigh in on climate change and possible mitigation policies including cap-and-trade and carbon taxes.
In his response, President Barack Obama called climate change "one of the biggest issues of this generation," language which mirrors the Democratic Party's official platform approved Tuesday at the convention in Charlotte, but backs away from calling climate change an "epochal, man-made threat to the planet" as was done by the party in 2008.
Obama also took advantage of the opportunity to tout his strong record on increasing fuel economy standards and "unprecedented" investments in clean energy as well as the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from new fossil fuel power plants proposed by his Administration.
"I will continue efforts to reduce our dependence on oil and lower our greenhouse gas emissions while creating an economy built to last," he concluded in his written response.
There was, however, no mention of revitalizing the cap-and-trade bill that was infamously defeated in the Senate back in 2010 or of the potential use of carbon taxes to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
For his part, Romney countered with one of his most direct and comprehensive statements on the issue since he stepped onto the campaign trail.
“I am not a scientist myself," Romney wrote," But my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences."
This language seems to be in direct contradiction to statements Romney made back in October: “We don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”
In his statement to Sciencedebate.org Romney went on to sound much more like his old self.
“There remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue – on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution and the severity of the risk – and I believe we must support continued debate and investigation within the scientific community.”
Romney continued to criticize Obama for what he called the "enormous costs to the U.S. economy" of the President's attempts to slash greenhouse gas emissions.
"The primary effect of unilateral action by the U.S. to impose costs on its own emissions will be to shift industrial activity overseas to nations whose industrial processes are more emissions-intensive and less environmentally friendly," he wrote.
Obama will have a huge stage Thursday to clarify where combating climate change ranks amongst his priorities as he accepts his party's nomination in North Carolina.
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Joanna Foster is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. Her background is in ecology and evolutionary biology, and having always lived near water—be it Lake Michigan, the Indian Ocean or the North Sea—she is passionate about the conservation and restoration of this most precious resource. She is a regular contributer at the Energy and Environment blog at The New York Times, and her work has also appeared in OnEarth Magazine and at the American Museum of Natural History. TakePart.com