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Framing the issue: environment

Posted on October 26, 2012 | by Tatiana Baez

As the election gets closer, conversations about the environment are bordering on nonexistent. Candidates, particularly those representing the Republican and Democratic parties, refuse to dedicate time or openly discuss environmental issues in their campaigns and turn instead to more immediate problems. Many people in the United States do not seem to undertand how serious environmental problems are, and the issues need to be addressed sooner rather than later. In our country, the young people and students are the future enablers of change. Education about environmental issues is crucial. The ability to stall the global shift toward environmental degradation is attainable. Voting for a president who has these problems at heart is relevant to every person in the United States because these concerns apparent in every household and every community. This is where the presidential candidates stand and how they plan to combat environmental problems.

What the expert says:

Courtesy of Nicholas Christie-Blick


Nicholas Christie-Blick, Professor of sedimentary geology and tectonics in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University

Q: Do you think environmental issues have been somewhat ignored in the presidential campaigns? Why or why not?

A: Yes, as James Carville observed in 1992, it’s ‘the economy, stupid.’

Q: What is the major environmental issue or issues facing the United States that should spark government intervention?

A: The unsustainable impact of the U.S. economy and, more generally, the global economy from global climate change to environmental degradation to the loss of biodiversity. The United States must, with considerably greater urgency, reduce [carbon dioxide] emissions by moving from an economy dependent upon fossil fuels to one that harnesses renewable energy.

Q: Which candidate seems to be more environmentally friendly?

A: Obama. The administration’s announcement of new fuel economy standards for cars and trucks, 54.5 mpg on average by 2025, will reduce U.S. oil consumption by an estimated 2.2 million barrels per day. For comparison, global demand is currently around 87 million barrels per day. Of that, the United States uses about 19 million barrels per day. Mr. Romney and the GOP more generally have no interest in environmental issues. They are locked into a 20th century mindset in which taking steps to preserve the environment is seen as necessarily harmful to the economy.

Q: Do you think the federal government should play a large role in regulating fracking and drilling?

A: Two new technologies [fracking and directed drilling] have led to an uptick in domestic oil production and especially gas production. It is nonetheless dishonest for Romney to claim that the former will, on any timescale, eliminate our dependence on foreign oil. U.S. petroleum production peaked in 1970 for a very good reason. By 1970 we had used up enough of our domestic reserves not to be able to meet rising demand. Shale gas is a bridge to the future. However, throughout the United States, regulations in place have proven not adequate to prevent damage to the environment and the shallow aquifers upon which many people in rural areas depend for water. It ought not to be possible for companies with well-financed legal departments to run roughshod over private citizens.


What the NYU student says:

Courtesy of Kevin Chen


Kevin Chen, CAS sophomore majoring in environmental studies and economics

Q: Do you think environmental issues have been somewhat ignored in the presidential campaigns? Why or why not?

A: Absolutely. In order to address pressing economic concerns, the candidates have focused almost entirely on America’s short-term prosperity, discussing job creation and energy independence through pro-natural gas and pro-oil rhetoric. Of course, this comes at the cost of addressing long-term environmental issues. It makes sense since voters are likely more worried about paying their next bill than the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, but I’m definitely disappointed with the candidates’ attitude towards such topics.

Q: What is the major environmental issue or issues facing the United States that should spark government intervention?

A: I think the U.S. government should intervene in the energy industry. It makes zero sense that oil companies receive such huge subsidies given their profit margins. We should instead invest in sustainable energy sources that look past the next 10 years and plan for the next 10 decades.

Q: Which candidate seems to be more environmentally friendly and why? 

A: Given the fact that Romney has failed even to mention the environmental concerns of oil and natural gas, I think it’s safe to say that President Obama is more environmentally friendly. However, he has softened his stance on many environmental issues, such as the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, in order to score political points. Still, I question if either candidate will have the guts to stand up for the environment.

Q: Do you think the federal government should play a large role in regulating fracking and drilling?

A: Yes, I think the federal government has a moral responsibility to protect the environment and should therefore regulate activities that will harm it, such as fracking and offshore drilling. These practices have effects that do not stop at state or national boundaries, and people have a right to live in communities free of environmental hazards. The federal government should also invest in alternative forms of energy for the same reason that the Federal Highway Act was passed. Huge interstate infrastructural projects simply cannot occur without help from the federal government, but that doesn’t mean that [we] should stop pursuing them.

A version of this article appeared in the Friday, Oct. 26 print edition. Tatiana Baez is a deputy university editor. Email her at 


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