Debate moderators also chose not to ask President Barack Obama or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney about the issue, despite a clamor by climate activists and some not-so-gentle prodding on the part of pundits and scientists.
The national hush on climate change – which became a toxic political issue after a cap-and-trade bill collapsed in Congress in 2010 – became so deafening this election year that some activists dubbed it “climate silence.” Some environmentalists struggled to summon enthusiasm for the Democratic president’s re-election campaign until Obama’s assertion that “climate change is not a hoax” brought delegates to their feet at the Democratic National Convention.
Even former Vice President Al Gore, whose film “An Inconvenient Truth” swayed public opinion on global warming, made mention of it during Monday night’s debate on foreign policy. “Where is global warming in this debate?” he asked on Twitter. “Climate change is an urgent foreign policy issue.”
But no matter who takes office in January, the next administration will have to take bold steps to address global warming and its consequences, environmental experts say. Already, sea levels are rising in some places, and sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean fell to the lowest extent in satellite history this summer. Emergency managers have begun grappling with more intense hurricanes, drought and other extreme weather that could be tied to changing global temperatures.
The question isn’t whether anything must be done on climate change after the election, said Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank. The question instead is what must be done and whether it’s too late to adequately address global warming, he said.
“We are at the moment in a period in American history when, for various reasons, there’s been a confluence of factors that combined have led to this astonishing unwillingness to grapple with what clearly is a huge issue for the future for us all,” Steer said. “I’m not confident that it will change.”