Voter Beware

Green Issues Have Taken a Back Seat in This Year’s Election—and They Couldn’t Be More Critical
Depending on the year and the current state of the country’s mood swing, the environment may or may not be a major talking point in a presidential election. This year appears to be one where green issues have taken a decided back seat to what are seen as the more pressing concerns of the day: the economy, of course, and job creation and healthcare with the usual sprinkling of foreign policy and social issues (gay marriage and contraception have both been subject to serious debate this year). But the unwillingness to confront environmental concerns head-on, particularly from the right, should sound a real alarm.

We’ve heard countless times from scientists and researchers that we are at a critical juncture and must act quickly to rein in emissions, aggressively move toward renewable energy and take a leadership role in regulating carbon. Then, too, are the issues of plastic pollution in our oceans, the public health threats posed by toxic chemicals in our products and food supply and the increasing concerns of extreme weather events, invasive species and the wholesale loss of marine life and wildlife as our world shakily adjusts to rising global temperatures.

Where environmental concerns have entered into the presidential debate—such as the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas or discussions about the rapid expansion of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for natural gas across the country—many on the right have attempted to spin these issues as being about the economy and jobs only. The simplifying of these debates dangerously downplays the major consequences of these extracting and drilling operations (Keystone XL alone will produce more than two billion tons of CO2 over its lifetime). What’s more, by characterizing these operations solely as job providers, it sets up a false dichotomy: protect the environment or protect the economy. As this issue’s cover story points out, environmental protections save the U.S. billions in health costs and the green economy supports a host of profitable, job-creating industries.

This year’s election is a critical one for the environment and public health. As the debates heat up, look for more attempts to characterize environmental protections as “job-killing regulations.” Should the country shift further right this November, the challenge will not be to pass a national greenhouse gas bill; the challenge will be simply to hang onto the protections we’ve already won.