11/05/2012 02:24 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Climate Silence In U.S. Elections Stumps Concerned Canadians


"It's global warming, stupid!" Believe it or not, that is what it says on the cover of Business Week right now. This is of course a reference to Bill Clinton's internal campaign slogan from 1992 -- "It's the economy, stupid" -- which was made famous by the documentary film The War Room. The slogan is a play on the old adage, "Keep it simple, stupid," sometimes known as the "KISS" principle.

As Canadians, we are well aware that we are sleeping next to an elephant, and that the choices made by the American president have broad implications not only for Canada but for rest of the world.

Much to the chagrin of many conscientious Canadians, the implications of a changing climate were off the radar in the American election before Hurricane Sandy swept in. The topic was not raised even once during the 2012 U.S. presidential debates. You would think it would be a no brainer to talk about this issue, given that the United Nations has called climate change "the single biggest threat facing humanity today."

This "climate silence" has perhaps been a reflection of the power of the fossil fuel industries in U.S. politics. In one of the debates, Obama and Romney actually fought over who was more supportive of the coal, oil and gas industries. Romney attacked Obama for stopping the Keystone XL pipeline and Obama responded by bragging that he had built enough pipeline during his presidency to "... wrap around the earth once."

The fact checkers at Politifact checked it out and it's true. Over 29,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines were built in the U.S. in the last four years; the circumference of the globe at the equator is a little less than 25,000 miles.

Even with that, Obama looks like a tree hugger compared to Romney, who is heavily backed by barons of the oil industry -- like the infamous Koch brothers who are behind much of the junk science that still to this day is trying to undermine the international consensus that human activity is causing climate change.


Hurricane Sandy has been a wake up call for many Americans. When seen in the context of the record-breaking droughts this past summer and other extreme weather events, all of a sudden the climate silence is coming to an end. New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg even endorsed Obama because of his climate policies.

The Business Week article does a good job of explaining the connection between global warming and extreme weather events. It offers, among other things, this baseball analogy:

"We can't say that steroids caused any one home run by Barry Bonds, but steroids sure helped him hit more and hit them farther. Now we have weather on steroids."

Essentially, climate change may not directly cause natural disasters, but it increases the number and severity of storms.

The outcome of the American election will have consequences here in Canada, but we also have our own huge choices to make. The Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is sometimes called the "gateway to global warming."

One of the biggest and dirtiest sources of climate changing pollution is land-locked in Alberta, and the industry needs pipelines though our province to get it to market. They already have the existing Kinder Morgan Tran Mountain Pipeline, which is the one way oil from the tar sands is currently making its way to markets in the Asia Pacific region. The company's owner, Texas billionaire (and major Romney donor) Richard Kinder has plans to build a pipeline the size of Enbridge's Gateway proposal along the route of the existing pipeline, which Kinder Morgan bought in 2005.

Either one of these pipelines would be a big step in the wrong direction for the climate. Perhaps it's poetic justice that in order to make these pipe dreams into realities, these projects would need to go though the birthplace of Greenpeace and David Suzuki and so many concerned environmentalists and First Nations.

The good news is that both the economy and the climate would benefit from doing the right thing. Reducing oil consumption means smart land use and transportation planning, which helps us get out of our cars, reduce pollution and protect farmland. It means investing in new alternative energy technologies that bring jobs to British Columbians.

If done right, these kinds of projects can actually create far more jobs per dollar invested than we can get by extracting and exporting raw resources, while simultaneously respecting First Nations rights and the local environment.

That is the choice we face all over North America. We can either be part of the problem, or be part of the solution.

No matter who gets elected in the U.S. -- or on our side of the border in the years to come -- we will have a lot of work to do. The fossil fuel companies have all the money in the world, and they are fighting for their lives. On the other side of the equation is the global movement to address the climate crisis and move beyond oil. Let's keep it simple, and do what is right.