Last night’s Presidential debate on foreign policy should have included a question on climate change which is one of the greatest foreign policy challenges and security risks facing the United States and communities around the world. A question would have been especially timely , given the recent foreign policy speech where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid it on the line: “Energy cuts across the entirety of U.S. foreign policy….Transformation to cleaner energy is central to reducing the world’s carbon emissions and it is core to a strong 21st Century global economy.”
Let’s look at some of the key differences between the candidates when it comes to energy diplomacy and climate change. Governor Romney has a “pull up the drawbridge” approach to energy and ridicules climate change. President Obama has already built a track record of actions to promote clean energy and reduce our dependence on fuels that worsen climate change.
Secretary Clinton set up the issue in her speech, saying, “This is a moment of profound change. Countries that once weren’t major consumers are. Countries that used to depend on others for their energy are now producers. How will this shape world events? Who will benefit, and who will not? How will it affect the climate, people’s economic conditions, the strength of young democracies?”
She emphasized the need for American leadership, continuing, “All of this is unknown. The answers to these questions are being written right now, and we intend to play a major role in writing them. We have no choice. We have to be involved everywhere in the world. The future security and prosperity of our nation and the rest of the world hangs in the balance.”
The Administration is not mincing words here.
This contrasts sharply with Governor Romney, who has relentlessly pursued a single minded energy focus on North America that boils down to an ‘extract our own resources and pull up the drawbridge’ approach. And he pays lip service to clean energy, but does not have a plan to advance it and would cut important tax credits for renewables.
If we continue with our reliance on ever dirtier forms of fossil fuels, our North American landscapes as we know them will change, carbon pollution will edge us closer to irreversible climate change, and important opportunities to promote clean energy both in the U.S. and abroad will be lost.
Take the proposed massive tar sands oil pipeline, Keystone XL, which Governor Romney has said he would approve. Not only would this be primarily an export oriented pipeline, greatly diminishing claimed energy security benefits, it is a dirty energy pipeline and not the path to U.S. economic leadership. As Secretary Clinton reminds us, trillions of dollars will be invested in the next 25 years in generating and transmitting energy globally. Now is the time for the U.S. to position ourselves as a leader and secure these clean energy opportunities.
The repercussions of climate change are real and are affecting our economic well-being at home and our security abroad. In a year of extreme weather, more and more Americans now understand the impacts of climate change in their communities. A recent PEW poll found that 67% of the public understands that there is solid evidence the planet is heating up. And more and more Americans can see how the kinds of changes climate change will bring can hit home – just ask the ranchers in Texas who had to sell their livestock because of the crippling drought.
There is another path.
President Obama has taken critical steps to reduce U.S. oil use through new clean car standards that will also save Americans money and to control carbon pollution by proposing carbon limits on new power plants. As Secretary Clinton made clear, “Energy is essential to how we will power our economy and manage our environment in the 21st Century. We therefore have an interest in promoting new technologies and new sources of energy – especially including renewables – to reduce pollution, diversify global energy supply, create jobs, and address the very real threat of climate change.”
That is a future worth looking forward to.