Column : How green coloured the US elections

Updated: Nov 24 2012, 08:49am hrs
Frank-Jurgen Richter

The 2012 election in America is over and Barack Obama has earned another term in office, but what does the outcome mean for the global environment

The United States has been a world leader in the creation of greenhouse gases, but also in green technology. Even before the election was over, it was obvious whoever won would have tremendous power over the United States environmental policy and this was made evident in the campaigns policies.

Mitt Romney took a surprising stance against global warming and environmentalism; his views were even more conservative than George W Bush. At the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, Mitt Romney said: President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.

Practically speaking, Mitt was denying the existence of, or at least the threat posed by global warming, though it was likely a remark designed to appeal to a particular slice of Mitts audience. Either way, his were a clear indication that mother nature would have no friend in a Romney White House.

Throughout the election, the issue of the environment was used by both sides to win voters, with either side often doing the exact opposite of each other in order to woo voters. Romney used global warming denial to attract the hardcore religious vote, a group who mostly ignore the facts about global warming and would rather see their tax dollars spent elsewhere.

President Obama, on the other hand, used his acceptance of global warming as a beacon to bring people to his side. With most people in America today accepting the existence of global warming, the Obama campaign used this fact to push voters who were sceptical of Romney over to their side.

Obama spoke in favour of environmental protection in the televised debates while Romney spoke against it: to someone who accepts global warming, the Obama campaign rightly figured that it would be hard for them to vote for Mitt Romney.

Despite their disagreements on global warming and Romneys flare for unpredictable, contradictory statements, both candidates agreed on two major pieces of environmental policy: the need for energy independence and the need for clean coal technology.

Ive written about clean coal in the past and the reality is that clean coal does not truly exist. While there are ways to make coal burning cleaner, compared to truly emission-free power generation methods like nuclear, wind and solar, clean coal is little more than a gimmick created by coal companies. Facing the threat of new technology stealing their business, the coal industry created clean coal as a way to appeal to environmentalists, and the coal lobby is so strong in Washington that it appeals to Republicans and Democrats alike.

Energy independence is another interesting subject because like clean coal, compared to the true goals at hand, energy independence is not an important issue. Yes, it would be nice for the United States to not have to rely on dangerous and unstable nations for their oil, but when the true issue at hand is stopping the production of greenhouse gases and reversing the damage already done, where the oil comes from really becomes trivial. And this is what concerns me about environmental policy in the Obama administration.

As a world leader in technology and in pollution, it is the United States responsibility to be as green as possible so as to set an example for the world. Surely, President Obama winning re-election is better for the environment than a Romney win would be, but dare I say it is simply not enough.

The United States has a president who accepts the dangers posed by global warming, but he is not poised to do enough to fight back. America doesnt need to be energy independent, it needs to have zero emissions. If Obama were to task the American people to become emissions-free in the next 10-20 years, the results of this challenge would create invaluable technology that the whole world could use and just maybe move one step closer to treating mother nature with the respect she deserves.

The author is founder and chairman of Horasis, a global visions community