“Green” Presidents: Perspective and the Importance of the 2012 Election

A new??poll??has environmental groups easily ranking Teddy Roosevelt as the “greenest” President we’ve ever had. Fourth on the list – behind Nixon and Carter – is President Obama.

With Election Day only 47 days away, environmental issues still haven’t emerged as a major topic in the 2012 Presidential race. A poll like this helps remind us just how high the stakes of this election are for the environment. While some lament the fact that President Obama has not fulfilled all of candidate Obama’s lofty policy goals, it is important to take into account the political environment that currently exists.

As President, Obama has faced an almost surreal obstacle to the passage – or even serious discussion – of new policies that might address effects of climate change: those who don’t believe it even exists. Unfortunately, Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney seems to fall into this category. While accepting his party’s nomination at the Republican National Convention, Romney’s only mention of climate change was dismissive, even sarcastic, as he joked that Obama had failed to “slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet.” It was an obvious dig at the President (mocking a quote from Obama’s 2008 victory speech), but also demonstrates Romney’s ambivalence towards the??effects of climate change. Recently, Romney has taken the position that humans do, in fact, contribute to climate change, but contends “there remains a lack of scientific consensus.” Even more troubling is that, just over a year ago, he took a drastically different stance and claimed that ???We don???t know what???s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.??? Whether he “believes” in climate change or not, it seems clear he doesn’t think we should do anything about it.

Its fun to compare past Presidents and their respective environmental records, especially when doing so reminds us of some unlikely “environmental” Presidents. Nixon, for example, isn’t often remembered for signing the Clean Air Act or for helping establish the EPA, but he did both. While it may be fair to say Obama hasn’t yet equaled the environmental achievements of some of these past Presidents, or even met many of the goals he set in 2008, its obvious that only one of these candidates has a chance to be remembered for addressing serious environmental issues. It can be frustrating to compare President Obama to candidate Obama, and “greener” Presidents, but he is moving in the right direction when it comes to addressing climate change. The most important comparison voters should focus on – at least for the next 47 days – must be between the President and Mitt Romney.

Obama’s convention speech may not have excited large numbers of environmentalists, but it certainly made for a stark contrast. The President said that his plan would “continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet, because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They are a threat to our children???s future.??? Obama should be held accountable for promises like these, and the environmental groups that ranked him as the fourth “greenest” President need to keep pressuring his administration to live up to candidate promises. We should all hope that he might be ranked higher than fourth in the next poll. Regardless of this President’s “green” ranking, one thing seems clear: if Romney is elected, his environmental record will almost certainly keep him off of these lists entirely.