Having just returned from Rome, I could not help but be reminded of the story of the emperor Nero playing his lyre while Rome burned to the ground as I watched the Republican National Convention in Florida. While historians disagree on the truth behind the story, the image of the Emperor being busy doing other things while the city burned around him is an enduring, powerful metaphor.
One of the things I have discovered about leaders is they can be right about many things but if they are wrong about something really important, then it doesn't matter very much. That is why I watched the convention looking for some sign that Romney is the least bit concerned about climate change.
In the week ahead of the convention, NASA reported that the Arctic ice had reached an all time summer low. While computers used to predict an ice-free Arctic by the end of this century, many believe we may now reach that milestone by the end of this decade, 80 years faster than the computers predicted. Much of the United States is suffering through a devastating drought that drilling for more oil not only won't solve, but will make even worse. In fact, climate change is just beginning to wreak major havoc with the world's food supply.
While evidence mounts that climate change and sustainability may be the security issue of our generation, both Romney and Canadian Prime Minister Harper seem completely unaware that it even matters. During his acceptance speech at the convention, Romney did actually mention climate change showing us clearly where he stands. Referring to a promise candidate Obama made while running for President, Romney said "Obama promised to stop the rising of the oceans and heal the planet. I will help you and your family." In other words, what may be the single most important issue of our generation deserved one line, a slam against anyone who thinks it really matters.
After hearing him say that, I decided to go to his website to see if he could really be that out of touch or whether that was just political posture. To my surprise while www.mittromney.com has a category for issues, the environment is not even listed as an issue on his site! Gun rights has an entire page but not a single paragraph devoted to anything green. Under his energy issue section there is one line about the environment, a slam against Obama for giving in to the environmental lobby. Make no mistake about it; Mitt Romney's climate change plan is simple-drill for as much oil as possible. This should sound familiar to Canadians.
Ironically, Romney like Harper, is out of sync not only with the scientists but even with major corporations and the Pentagon. Several Pentagon reports have already warned that the military sees climate change as a major security threat and that the next major wars will be over food and water. Major corporations like Dupont tried to take the lead on climate change at the recent Rio Summit while Harper embarrassed Canada by doing everything in his power to make sure that no progress was made on climate change and quietly dismantled environmental regulations at home including gutting the fisheries act.
Conservatives on both sides of the border used to get that being green not only made sense but wasn't anti-business. Nixon signed the clean air and clean water bills. Brian Mulroney was voted in 2005 by environmental groups as the "greenest" prime minister in Canada's history. In an interview for the Corporate Knights, Mulroney put it bluntly "I think the government has to reposition environment on top of their national and international priorities. It has to be an integral part of the articulation of a national series of objectives. Right now, it's not. And only the Prime Minster can do that." Today, the party line of conservatives on both sides of the border is that green is bad for business, end of story.
Romney tipped his hand this week in Florida, not only does he have no intention of tackling climate change, he thinks it only worthy of a rhetorical slam against anyone who thinks it's a serious issue. He may have promised to take care of "you and your family" but even the Pentagon will tell you that if that Arctic ice keeps melting and those droughts keep coming, we may remember Romney and Harper for having been busy doing other things while the planet burned.
Many Canadians had no idea Harper would be so anti-green when we elected him because he at least talked a good game. Americans ought to know that Mitt has put it right there on his website. Environment is not even an issue on his radar screen. So much for the return of the Rockefeller Republicans-Conservative on business and moderate on social issues. I can hear the sound of the fiddle but I'm not sure anyone is listening.