Is It Bad Politics To Talk About the Environment?

In response to my post expressing disappointment about the treatment of environmental issues in last night’s debate, Dan posted this comment:

I agree that the lack of discussion of the environment was disappointing. But we have to remember that the debaters were primarily aiming their remarks at a small segment of the U.S. public whose votes are up for grabs in about nine states. This is a very small segment of the population. I guess we can deduce that this small group of voters doesn’t care about the environment much. Presumably anyone who does care about the environment is already voting for Obama.

Is Dan right?  Is it better politics to ignore environmental issues?  I get that Obama wants to show voters in coal-rich states like Ohio that he cares about their issues.  Here’s a post that discusses how the administration is trying to appease Ohio workers affected by the downturn in coal use. But my disappointment isn’t that he feels the need to play the politics of coal and conventional fuels.  My disappointment is that he can’t even utter words like “oil spill” or “clean air” or, heaven forbid, “climate change.”  I don’t think independent voters in Florida or Colorado or Iowa or Nevada would flee to Romney from an acknowledgment that our thirst for oil, gas and coal has environmental consequences.  Or that the Obama administration has done a fair amount to protect the environment.  Even on climate change, as Jaynie blogged about previously, undecided voters overwhelmingly believe it’s happening.  And I’m not even sure it’s right to say that the debate is (or should be) aimed only at a handful of undecided voters in swing states.  Part of the purpose of the debate is to make the case to a broader swath of the public about why they should get off the couch and go vote for you.  But I may well be wrong about the politics of all of this.

So who’s right?  Is it better politics for Obama to ignore environmental issues while extolling his efforts to increase oil and gas production?  Or is it better politics to mention environmental issues?  Commenters, have at it!

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Reader Comments

10 Replies to “Is It Bad Politics To Talk About the Environment?”

  1. “Is it better politics for Obama to ignore environmental issues while extolling his efforts to increase oil and gas production? Or is it better politics to mention environmental issues? ”

    Sadly, not that many people prioritize the environment in western countries. We move from box to box to box to box and are rarely connected to “the environment”. That’s how it is.

  2. “Is it better politics for Obama to ignore environmental issues while extolling his efforts to increase oil and gas production? Or is it better politics to mention environmental issues? ”

    Sadly, not that many people prioritize the environment in western countries. We move from box to box to box to box and are rarely connected to “the environment”. That’s how it is.

  3. I’m inclined to agree that talking about environmental issues in a more robust manner would be a good defense — or perhaps the best defense, an offense — against the charges that environmental regulations are harming the economy. For example, should not the President be forcing Romney to acknowledge that the costs of relaxing clean air regulations as Romney advocates would be more asthma, other diseases, and even premature deaths, and that these consequences harm the economy? Sure, Romney would disavow the science, but the science would put Romney on the defensive more than he is when the President fails to provide a stronger defense of environmental policies.

  4. I’m inclined to agree that talking about environmental issues in a more robust manner would be a good defense — or perhaps the best defense, an offense — against the charges that environmental regulations are harming the economy. For example, should not the President be forcing Romney to acknowledge that the costs of relaxing clean air regulations as Romney advocates would be more asthma, other diseases, and even premature deaths, and that these consequences harm the economy? Sure, Romney would disavow the science, but the science would put Romney on the defensive more than he is when the President fails to provide a stronger defense of environmental policies.

  5. I think Obama would benefit even with swing voters from just noting that Romney’s energy policy ignores environmental consequences which must be taken into account for an energy policy to be sustainable. Deep Horizon demonstrated that reality. I think the majority of voters get that. Taylor Miller

  6. I think Obama would benefit even with swing voters from just noting that Romney’s energy policy ignores environmental consequences which must be taken into account for an energy policy to be sustainable. Deep Horizon demonstrated that reality. I think the majority of voters get that. Taylor Miller

  7. I found it frustrating that Obama did not highlight the environmental and health consequences from more onshore and offshore oil drilling and coal burning. The BP oil spill would have been a great example of why we must not rush into this. In such a public forum, it was disheartening that our President would not say the words “climate change,” “air pollution,” “oil spill,” or call Romney out on these harmful effects which the Obama Administration has taken reasonable steps to address.

    On the other hand, the President probably has analysts doing number crunching who know things we do not about the delicate balance of this election and how he should speak about energy and environment issues. Still, it seems that he missed an opportunity here.

  8. I found it frustrating that Obama did not highlight the environmental and health consequences from more onshore and offshore oil drilling and coal burning. The BP oil spill would have been a great example of why we must not rush into this. In such a public forum, it was disheartening that our President would not say the words “climate change,” “air pollution,” “oil spill,” or call Romney out on these harmful effects which the Obama Administration has taken reasonable steps to address.

    On the other hand, the President probably has analysts doing number crunching who know things we do not about the delicate balance of this election and how he should speak about energy and environment issues. Still, it seems that he missed an opportunity here.

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Ann Carlson

Ann Carlson is the Shirley Shapiro Professor of Environmental Law and the co-Faculty Director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA School…

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