Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Climate change may be a burning issue – but election campaign tells another story
As Alaskans choose their Democratic nominee after a winter wiped out by high temperatures, among Republicans the climate question has been near invisible
It is an absence that has been felt in presidential primaries and caucuses across the US, including states that have been ravaged by drought or sea level rise. In a desperate attempt to reverse the lack of environmental focus, a group of Florida mayors begged CNN to quiz Republicans about sea level rise at a debate held in Miami.
“I suppose the American media has to shoulder some of the blame,” said Michael Mann, a leading climate scientist. “Both Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, consistently emphasise climate change as being one of our greatest challenges.
“They mention it in nearly every speech they give. So the candidates themselves seem to be doing their part. Yet when American journalists have had an opportunity to question the candidates, in the various debates that have been held for example, the topic is rarely mentioned.”
Several factors are tamping down debate over climate change and other environmental issues such as land use, pollution and mining. One is a lack of disagreement between candidates within the parties; another is the feeling that despite record numbers of Americans believing climate change is human-caused and a looming problem, it will not drive voters to the polls in a panic.
“For most Americans, climate change is not a crisis,” said Bill Schneider, a veteran political analyst who has covered every presidential election since 1976. “Terrorist attacks and Isis are closer to crises.
What is the most newsworthy? Yet more vague repeated warnings about “imminent” climate problems which never manifest, or news that a worker at a Belgian nuclear plant may have just been murdered by terrorists, as part of their plan to detonate a dirty bomb in a vulnerable Western city?
Schneider is right, that most people think terrorism is a higher priority than climate change.