Obama, Romney Address Nonprofit Group’s Science Questions

The major parties’ presidential nominees address questions posed by sciencedebate.org on climate science and other science-related issues, and Scientific American‘s editors plan to report their ‘grades’ on the Obama and Romney responses.


The major political parties’ presidential candidates — Democratic President Barrack Obama and Republican nominee and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney — have provided responses to a sciencedebate.org questionnaire asking their view on climate science and other science issues.

Perhaps the biggest “news” from the candidates’ clearly self-serving statements is Romney’s again returning to an earlier position in which he accepts that “the world is getting warmer” in part because of human activities. That’s a position many in his political party have yet to accept, but Romney immediately added that “there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue” and that “continued debate and investigation within the scientific community” is needed. He said he opposes a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system and rather supports “economic growth and technological innovation.”

The Obama and Romney verbatim formal responses are printed below in full (and in the blue and red colors used by that group) as provided by their campaigns and posted at the sciencedebate.org website:

Obama –

Climate change is the one of the biggest issues of this generation, and we have to meet this challenge by driving smart policies that lead to greater growth in clean energy generation and result in a range of economic and social benefits. Since taking office I have established historic standards limiting greenhouse gas emissions from our vehicles for the first time in history. My administration has made unprecedented investments in clean energy, proposed the first-ever carbon pollution limits for new fossil-fuel-fired power plants and reduced carbon emissions within the Federal Government. Since I took office, the U.S. is importing an average of 3 million fewer barrels of oil every day, and our dependence on foreign oil is at a 20-year low. We are also showing international leadership on climate change, reaching historic agreements to set emission limits in unison with all major developed and developing nations. There is still more to be done to address this global problem. I will continue efforts to reduce our dependence on oil and lower our greenhouse gas emissions while creating an economy built to last.

Romney –

I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences. However, there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue — 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.

Ultimately, the science is an input to the public policy decision; it does not dictate a particular policy response. President Obama has taken the view that if global warming is occurring, the American response must be to slash carbon dioxide emissions by imposing enormous costs on the U.S. economy. First he tried a massive cap-and-trade bill that would have devastated U.S. industry. When that approach was rejected by Congress, he declared his intention to pursue the same course on his own and proceeded through his EPA to impose rules that will bankrupt the coal industry.

Nowhere along the way has the President indicated what actual results his approach would achieve — and with good reason. The reality is that the problem is called Global Warming, not America Warming. China long ago passed America as the leading emitter of greenhouse gases. Developed world emissions have leveled off while developing world emissions continue to grow rapidly, and developing nations have no interest in accepting economic constraints to change that dynamic. In this context, the primary effect of unilateral action by the U.S. to impose costs on its own emissions will be to shift industrial activity overseas to nations whose industrial processes are more emissions-intensive and less environmentally friendly. That result may make environmentalists feel better, but it will not better the environment.

So I oppose steps like a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system that would handicap the American economy and drive manufacturing jobs away, all without actually addressing the underlying problem. Economic growth and technological innovation, not economy-suppressing regulation, is the key to environmental protection in the long run. So I believe we should pursue what I call a “No Regrets” policy — steps that will lead to lower emissions, but that will benefit America regardless of whether the risks of global warming materialize and regardless of whether other nations take effective action.

For instance, I support robust government funding for research on efficient, low-emissions technologies that will maintain American leadership in emerging industries. And I believe the federal government must significantly streamline the regulatory framework for the deployment of new energy technologies, including a new wave of investment in nuclear power. These steps will strengthen American industry, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and produce the economically-attractive technologies that developing nations must have access to if they are to achieve the reductions in their own emissions that will be necessary to address what is a global issue.

The magazine Scientific American, which partnered with sciencedebate.org on the questions to the candidates, is reporting that its editors “will grade the candidates’ answers” and report those grades in its November issue, which is to be publicly available in mid-October.

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One Response to Obama, Romney Address Nonprofit Group’s Science Questions

  1. Fred Powledge says:

    Well, at least Obama acknowledged the subject of climate change, which he’s been avoiding far too long. And he didn’t refer to “clean coal,” which is another point in his favor.