Panel discusses presidential platforms about the environment, sustainability

Robert Alexander, assistant professor of political science and public administration, speaks to the audience of an environmental panel Monday night. It highlighted faults of both presidential candidates in regard to their green policies.

This story was updated on Oct. 23 at 7:25 p.m. to correct the spelling of Brian Kaylor's name.

Environmental policy is more important in this election than most people think.

That’s according to Brian Kaylor, political communications professor.

“Regardless of who gets elected, this does not bode well for the next [few] years, ” Kaylor said. “Neither of the candidates are talking about the environment, and their silence is setting the agenda for what the public cares about.” 

Kaylore believes that environmental issues haven’t been a main topic of the election because most people see the economy and the environment as opposing ideas.  

“Politicians are setting up this clash between the economy and the environment, and essentially saying that we have to take care of one or the other,” Kaylor said. “The candidates are not talking about the environment, and so we the public are not talking about it in our coffee shops and pushing the idea back to them as something important that needs to be a part of their policy making.”

About 40 faculty, students and Harrisonburg locals came to Taylor Hall on Monday afternoon to hear a panel discuss the presidential candidates’ stances on the environment. 

The three-person panel was composed of Kayler, Nathan Lott, executive director of the Virginia Conservation Network, Dave Pruett, a retired math professor. 

The panel began by showing YouTube clips of the two presidential candidates giving their views on the issue of climate change and the environment. 

“I think the [Environmenal Protection Agency] has gotten completely out of control for a very simple reason, and that it is a tool in the hands of the president to crush the private enterprise system,” Gov. Mitt Romney said in a clip from a 2011 presidential forum. 

According to Lott, Romney’s stance is worrying environmentalists. 

“Romney is essentially equating the [EPA] regulations with an attack on free enterprise,” Lott said. “He is insinuating that Obama has some sort of socialist agenda.”

According to the Washington Post’s transcript of the Oct. 16 presidential debate, Romney wants to make America and North America more energy independent through increased drilling, whereas President Barack Obama wants to branch out from the usage and production of traditional energy sources such as oil. 

Hunter Hart, a freshman ISAT major and member of E.A.R.T.H. Club, didn’t attend the panel discussion, but thinks the Oct. 16 debate between the two candidates was disappointing since neither addressed the environmental issue. 

Obama “went off in a tangent about how he was improving fuel efficiency in cars,” Hart said. “But he should have brought up climate change. He didn’t mention it even once.”

Kaylor said Obama’s silence on this issue is an indication of his failed policy in regards to green issues. 

The panelists showed a table which represented how many times terms like “environment,” “clean,” “climate,” “warming” and “energy” came up in political debates from 1988 to 2012. Recently, there has been a trend of talking about “energy” more than the other terms, but the term “environment” was not mentioned once in any of the 2012 political debates.

Pruett also showed a table illustrating a “flip” in public opinion in 2008. Between 1985 and 2011 the public was more concerned about the environment than it was about the economy. But in 2008, this changed, and since then, the public has said it’s more concerned about the economy.

Pruett doesn’t think the economic recession that started in 2008 caused this change in perspective. 

“I think that the fossil fuel industry’s disinformation campaign is largely to blame,” Pruett said. “All they have to do is sow the seeds of doubt to suppress the level of public concern, and the environment and green energy falls off the agenda.” 

Pruett said the Obama administration has made some efforts to make green energy a priority. He added that so far, Obama has made investments in renewable energy by doubling wind and solar energy use. 

But Lott believes both parties need to start discussing environmental regulation. 

“The onus is on Obama. He hasn’t addressed the government’s role in protecting the environment,” Lott said. “It is also clear that Romney and Ryan would roll back progress on environmentally friendly policies.” 

Michael Reeser, a junior ISAT major, said the ongoing debate between the candidates hasn’t swayed him toward one political party. 

Reeser said he cares about environmental ethics because that’s the field he’ll most likely pursue after college. 

Although Hart thinks that the environmental issue is relevant to this upcoming election, he doubts that other voters will be influenced by issues like climate change. 

“It’s not likely that people will vote on the environmental issue this election,” Hart said. “I think the upcoming election is based on who can get the country out of the current economic crisis.”

 

Contact Evi Fuelle at fuelleendukes.jmu.edu.