The Climate Elephant in the Room

The tragic irony of this year's presidential election was how far President Obama and Governor Romney were willing to go to avoid the climate elephant in the room. Now that elephant is on a rampage, in the form of Hurricane Sandy.

For the first time in decades, both candidates were silent on the climate issue during the three nationally televised presidential debates. Instead of addressing this obvious economic, public health and national security threat, the candidates argued over who likes fossil fuels the most. Where they did find agreement was on support for the southern leg of Keystone XL, the construction of which is currently meeting fierce resistance from landowners and growing numbers of nonviolent resisters in Texas. Keystone XL is the same tar sands pipeline that Bill McKibben has described as a "fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet."

"We're going to bring that pipeline in from Canada."
- Governor Romney, speaking about Keystone XL during the second presidential debate

"We've built enough pipeline to wrap around the Earth once. So I'm all for pipelines."
- President Obama, commenting on Keystone XL during the second presidential debate

As far back as 2007, an elite Military Advisory Board of 11 retired three- and four-star generals and admirals from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps warned that "climate change is and must be recognized as a threat to our national security." Echoing this sentiment, Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, USN (Ret.), president of the bipartisan American Security Project, testified in 2009 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that taking this national security threat "head on is about preserving our way of life."

Both candidates have been informed by twenty prominent scientists - including one of the nation's top climate experts, Dr. James Hansen - that Keystone XL "would practically guarantee extensive exploitation" of Canada's tar sands, which "on top of conventional fossil fuels will leave our children and grandchildren a climate system with consequences that are out of their control." They have also been warned by Dr. Hansen - who along with other scientists links deadly heat waves to climate change - that such exploitation would mean "game over for the climate."

The fury of future generations for this political cowardice on the greatest challenge of our time may eclipse even that of Hurricane Sandy.