An iceberg melts off Ammassalik Island in Eastern Greenland in this July 19, 2007 file photo. A record amount of Greenland's ice sheet melted this summer _ 13 billion tons more than the previous high mark _ U.S. scientists are reporting this week in an ominous new sign of global warming.

John Mcconnico, Associated Press - Ap

Put candidates on the spot about climate

  • Article by: JAMES P. LENFESTEY
  • September 16, 2011 - 10:27 PM

Whatever you think of the performance of the Republican candidates in their first three debates, one failure is clear: that of the journalists posing the questions.

How can any journalist serious about the issues facing national candidates fail to ask at least one question about climate change? And yet not one did -- not John Kyl of CNN in the New Hampshire debate; not NBC's Brian Williams nor Politico's John Harris at the Reagan Library; not the strutting Wolf Blitzer in Tampa.

Yes, there are many important issues for which the America voters needs to hear answers; jobs are on everyone's minds. But what kind of jobs and where they will come from is colored by answers to the climate question.

The raging international debate about black jobs (from traditional coal and oil) vs. green jobs (nuclear, solar, wind, biomass, high tech and conservation) makes no sense at all if climate science isn't on the table and understood.

So here are some questions all candidates, Democrats and Republicans, should be required to answer, as they seek to lead this nation onto a potentially radically different climate future.

1. Do you understand the science of climate change?

2. Are you aware that President George W. Bush's administration found the evidence for climate change convincing? Have you read his report, "Scientific Assessment of the Effects of Global Change on the United States," published in 2008?

If not, I quote: "Several lines of evidence, including those outlined in the following sections, point to a strong human influence on climate. Although these individual lines of evidence vary in their degrees of certainty, when considered together they provide a compelling and scientifically sound explanation of the changes to Earth's climate."

3. Are you aware that in May 2011, the nation's most esteemed scientific body, the National Research Council, reaffirmed the international scientific consensus on the human causes of climate change and made clear that sustained effort must begin immediately to deal with those adverse consequences? That the question of climate change is "settled science," and the impacts are already evident around us?

4. If you do not accept the conclusions of these careful scientific assessments, what scientists do you listen to? What reports have they issued that you find more convincing? Where do you get the information that you find more persuasive?

5. Let me put this another way. Texas is on fire. Pennsylvania faces record floods. Joplin, Mo., is reeling from epic tornados. Shorelines are eroding in the Carolinas. None of these events can be directly blamed on climate change, but all are predicted by known climate-change trends.

Such events will only worsen if the climate continues to warm, as it will under business-as-usual scenarios. Do you support a business-as-usual model or do you have a plan to stem the trend toward a hotter, more volatile planet?

6. Candidates Perry and Bachmann: Both of you have said the Environmental Protection Agency is a major problem in America, and you would seek to eliminate it if elected, particularly its mandate, affirmed by the Supreme Court, to regulate carbon emissions.

How then would you address the flaw in private markets that attaches no economic value to waste that falls as a burden on the general population -- for example, sewers that flow into waters that cross state lines, or carbon wastes that warm the atmosphere around the world? Without the EPA, how would you propose to address pollutants that cross state and international boundaries?

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I look forward to the candidates' answers to such questions. But right now I am waiting for journalists to ask them.

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James P. Lenfestey is a former editorial writer for the Star Tribune covering climate and education.

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