Presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney rarely mention climate change. But a growing number of Americans want to hold the candidates accountable for their positions on the warming of the planet—and other pressing science and environmental issues.
Now, Sciencedebate.org and Scientific American have teamed up to ask Obama and Romney to answer 14 of the nation’s top science questions. The candidates’ responses, published on Tuesday, September 4, don’t often reveal their specific plans for implementing new policies.
But the answers provide background and context for where the two men stand on issues as diverse as pandemics, vaccinations, funding for scientific research, and, of course, climate change.
On Scientific Research and Innovation
Obama says that he is committed to doubling funding for “key research agencies to support scientists and entrepreneurs,” thus stimulating innovation. He also promises to prepare 100,000 new science and math teachers in the next decade, providing the human capital a new generation of skilled American workers.
Romney wants to pursue lowering the corporate tax rate to 25 percent, and stripping regulatory agencies of their authority to protect public health and safety. He proposes that all major regulations be subject to Congressional approval to “limit the costs they are imposing on society and recognize that their job is to streamline and reduce burdens, not to add new ones.” (Central to Romney’s platform is his intent to kill regulations, which he sees as tamping down innovation).
Obama writes that he believes in an “all-of-the-above approach” to energy sources, including natural gas, wind, solar, oil, clean coal, and biofuels. He recalls that his administration has “made the largest investment in clean energy and energy efficiency in American history and proposed an ambitious Clean Energy Standard to generate 80 percent of our electricity from clean energy sources like wind, solar, clean coal, and natural gas by 2035.”
Romney labels Obama’s method a “hodgepodge,” and reiterates his interest in reducing dependence on foreign sources of energy, a necessary step of which would be approving the Keystone XL pipeline. He also notes that he would work closely with Mexico and Canada to achieve North American energy independence by 2020.
On Climate Change
President Obama doesn’t detail particular policy interventions (his words: “I will continue efforts to reduce our dependence on oil and lower our greenhouse gas emissions while creating an economy built to last,”) but he is certainly several steps ahead of Romney, who isn’t sure that climate change exists.
“…There remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue [of climate change] – 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 writes.
This is a fallacy—97 to 98 percent of working climatologists believe that climate change is real and that human activities are the principle cause. A National Academy of Sciences study from 2010 found that most of the scientists who were publicly identified as “climate skeptics” were not even actively publishing in the climatology field.
To read the full text of the 14 science questions and the candidates' answers, click here.
Should Barack Obama and Mitt Romney debate climate change during the first presidential debate, scheduled for October 3?
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Alison Fairbrother is the director of the nonpartisan Public Trust Project, which investigates and reports on misrepresentations of science by corporations and government. She has written for the Washington Monthly, the Washington Spectator, Grist, and Politics Daily, among others. Alison is based in Washington DC. @adfairbrother | TakePart.com