Stifling Heat | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Stifling Heat

Politicians gather, and ignore the crisis just outside the door

"They knew what the weather was going to be months ago."

So sneered Charles Krauthammer at news that Barack Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention was being moved indoors, for fear of rain. Krauthammer, like other Republicans, was certain the real reason was that Democrats feared they couldn't fill an outdoor venue. It did end up raining, though as you might expect, not enough to satisfy GOP critics.

The surprising part, though, is Krauthammer's apparent willingness to believe that Democrats can predict weather patterns months in advance. These days, Republicans have a hard time crediting such insight even to scientists.

Speakers at the Republican convention, in Tampa, ranged from those who think global warming is a natural process, to those who think it's an international conspiracy. Meanwhile, we're already seeing the kind of phenomena climatologists have been warning of: This summer witnessed one of the worst droughts in U.S. history, along with the most extensive melting of Arctic sea-ice ever recorded.

Yet the more evidence we have of global warming, the less willing Republicans are to admit it exists.

Just four years ago, the official GOP platform in 2008 conceded, "The same human economic activity that has brought freedom and opportunity to billions has also increased the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. While the scope and long-term consequences of this are the subject of ongoing scientific research, common sense dictates that the United States should take measured and reasonable steps today to reduce any impact on the environment."

Granted, that's not a stirring call to action, what with the emphasis on "measured" steps and the "opportunity" created by industrialization. But at least there was an admission of a problem. By contrast, here's what the party's 2012 platform says about climate change:


Except for a brief passage deriding Obama for actually taking climate change seriously, the subject has become verboten. "Common sense" is no longer part of the Republican platform.

Mitt Romney is a perfect example of the GOP's turnaround: His principles are about the only things melting faster than the polar ice caps. He's previously admitted humans play a role in climate change, and in his 2010 look-at-me-I'm-running-for-President book No Apology, he said evidence of melting polar ice was "hard to ignore." Apparently not that hard. During his acceptance speech in Tampa, his sole reference to climate change was a joke: "President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans." (At least, I assume it was a joke. The audience laughed, anyway. Maybe you had to be there.)

True, Democrats don't have much to boast about. While their platform recognizes climate change as "one of the biggest threats of this generation," it offers little beyond a promise to pursue international negotiations. Obama spoke to the issue only slightly longer than Romney, pledging to "continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet — because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They're a threat to our children's future." 

Then, having raised the specter of future environmental catastrophes, the president moved on to education policy. 

Obama's near-silence makes political sense. The steps his administration has taken to rein in the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide have outraged coal producers. Protesters now routinely accuse Obama of a "war on coal."

And why inflict damage on yourself for a policy you won't be able to pursue in office? Unless Democrats win the White House, retake the U.S. House and earn a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate — something no one expects — Republicans will stymie any global-warming initiative.

This isn't one of those columns that piously declares both parties to blame, or smugly asserts there's no difference between them. Those differences have actually never been more obvious. In Charlotte, you saw a party that reflected the nation's increasing diversity, rallied by its most recent former president. In Tampa, you saw old white people scared of the country's demographic future, and whose own most recent ex-president was nowhere to be seen. Guess which party is prouder of its past accomplishments, and better prepared to embrace the future?

And anyway, at least Democrats know enough to come in out of the rain. 

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